The aim of this paper was to provide epidemiological evidence to support the notion that cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) without human papillomavirus (HPV) is a true entity. If a diagnosis of HPV-negative cervical neoplasia is erroneous, one would not expect there to be any differences in risk factors between HPV-positive and HPV-negative patients. Patients at a gynaecological outpatient clinic of a university hospital [a total of 265 consecutive women with dyskaryotic cervical smears who were subsequently diagnosed with CIN I (n=37), CIN II (n=48) or CIN III (n=180)] completed a structured questionnaire regarding smoking habits and sexual history. Analysis of an endocervical swab for Chlamydia trachomatis, analysis of a cervical scrape for HPV, and morphological examination of cervical biopsy specimens were also performed. HPV was found in 205 (77.4%) out of the 265 women. Univariate analysis showed that current age (P=0.02), current smoking behaviour (P=0.002) and the number of sexual partners (P=0.02) were significantly associated with the presence of HPV. Age at first sexual intercourse, a past history of venereal disease or genital warts, and current infection with Chlamydia trachomatis were not associated with the presence of HPV. Using multivariate logistic regression analysis, the number of sexual partners and current smoking behaviour showed an independent significant association with HPV. HPV-negative and HPV-positive CIN patients differ with respect to the risk factors for HPV. These findings suggest that HPV-negative CIN is a separate true entity.