We investigate sexual differences in reaction norms in directly developing individuals of the copper butterfly Lycaena tityrus predicted from sexual selection theory. As recent studies on butterflies revealed a high degree of adaptive plasticity in growth and development, which may undermine the basic trade-offs assumed in life-history theory, we focus on effects of temperature, trying to drive growth rates to their physiological upper limit and thus disclosing otherwise potentially concealed responses. Development time strongly depended on temperature, leading in accordance with a central assumption in life-history theory to a larger size at low temperatures, and vice versa. At all temperatures larval development time of males was significantly shorter compared to females, as was predicted by protandry theory. This was partially due to an invariably higher growth rate of males. However, sexes responded in different ways to developmental time constraints caused by increasing temperatures. Despite the shorter larval time of males, both sexes achieved similar body sizes at lower temperatures, because males avoided a reduction in weight due to plastic growth. At high temperatures, in contrast, males were forced to make a trade-off in which they favoured early emergence over large size, leading to a dramatic weight loss. Weight of females, however, remained similar throughout showing no trade-off. These different reaction norms reflect divergent selective pressures acting on males and females, which can be explained in relation to the reproductive system. The strong selection for early emergence in males is likely to be due to monandry, discrete non-overlapping generations (as was already predicted by theory), and territoriality, because prior ownership of a territory seems to be a major advantage for successful reproduction. On the other hand, the preference of females for large body size was expected due to the close relationship between this trait and fecundity. Thus, our results highlight the extraordinary importance of the specific reproductive system, which can influence central life-history traits in manifold ways.