This study examined attitudes to human papillomavirus (HPV) testing among a purposively selected sample of women from four ethnic groups: white British, African Caribbean, Pakistani and Indian. The design was qualitative, using focus group discussion to elicit women's attitudes towards HPV testing in the context of cervical cancer prevention. The findings indicate that although some women welcomed the possible introduction of HPV testing, they were not fully aware of the sexually transmitted nature of cervical cancer and expressed anxiety, confusion and stigma about HPV as a sexually transmitted infection. The term 'wart virus', often used by medical professionals to describe high-risk HPV to women, appeared to exacerbate stigma and confusion. Testing positive for HPV raised concerns about women's sexual relationships in terms of trust, fidelity, blame and protection, particularly for women in long-term monogamous relationships. Participation in HPV testing also had the potential to communicate messages of distrust, infidelity and promiscuity to women's partners, family and community. Concern about the current lack of available information about HPV was clearly expressed and public education about HPV was seen as necessary for the whole community, not only women. The management of HPV within cervical screening raises important questions about informed participation. Our findings suggest that HPV testing has the potential to cause psychosocial harm to women and their partners and families.