Sexual conflict theory predicts an antagonistic coevolution, with each sex evolving adaptations and counter–adaptations to overcome a temporary dominance of the other sex over the control of paternity. Polyandry allows sexual selection to operate after mating has commenced, with male and female interests competing for control of fertilization. There are numerous examples of male control of paternity, but few studies have unambiguously revealed female control. Attributing variance in paternity to females is often difficult since male and female influences cannot be separated unambiguously. However, we show that polyandrous female orb–web spiders Argiope keyserlingi (Araneidae) control the paternity of their offspring by adjusting the timing of sexual cannibalism. Our experiments reveal that females copulating with relatively smaller males delay sexual cannibalism, thereby prolonging the duration of copulation, and that these males consequently fertilize relatively more eggs.