Introducing human papillomavirus (HPV) testing into cervical cancer screening has the potential to change the way that women understand cervical cancer, the psychological impact of abnormal screening results and the likelihood of future participation in screening. The study used in-depth interviews to examine how women make sense of information about HPV in the context of cervical cancer screening. A total of 74 women were recruited following participation in HPV testing. Women varied widely in their beliefs about the aetiology of cervical cancer and its relationship with sexual activity, as well as in their understanding of the sexually transmitted nature of HPV. While some women who understood that HPV is sexually transmitted were able to integrate this into their existing model of cervical cancer, others were shocked by the link between cervical cancer and sex, of which they had been previously unaware. Women were generally reassured to know that HPV is common, has no symptoms, can lie dormant for many years, can clear up on its own and need not raise concerns about transmission to sexual partners. Women's understanding of HPV varied considerably, even after participation in testing. The way in which information is presented to women will be crucial in minimising the negative psychological impact of testing positive and ensuring that participation in screening remains high.