Although sexual reproduction is believed to play a major role in the high diversification rates and species richness of diatoms, a mechanistic understanding of diatom life cycle control is virtually lacking. Diatom sexual signalling is controlled by a complex, yet largely unknown, pheromone system. Here, a sex-inducing pheromone (SIP(+)) of the benthic pennate diatom Seminavis robusta was identified by comparative metabolomics, subsequently purified, and physicochemically characterized. Transcriptome analysis revealed that SIP(+) triggers the switch from mitosis-to-meiosis in the opposing mating type, coupled with the transcriptional induction of proline biosynthesis genes, and the release of the proline-derived attraction pheromone. The induction of cell cycle arrest by a pheromone, chemically distinct from the one used to attract the opposite mating type, highlights the existence of a sophisticated mechanism to increase chances of mate finding, while keeping the metabolic losses associated with the release of an attraction pheromone to a minimum.