Infection with oncogenic human papillomavirus (HPV) types is a necessary cause of cervical cancer, the second most frequently occurring cancer in women worldwide. Rates of acquisition of HPV are high, particularly among sexually active young adults. Reported estimates of incident HPV infection among initially negative women have reached as high as 60% over a 5-year follow-up period. In this article, we review the epidemiology of HPV infection. In addition to estimates of disease frequency, we highlight risk factors for HPV infection, including the number of lifetime sex partners, which is the most salient risk factor. We discuss significant issues surrounding the natural history of HPV infection, including viral persistence versus clearance, immune response, development of lesions and development of cancer. Finally, we discuss strategies for preventing HPV infection.