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Exploring the psychosexual impact and disclosure experiences of women testing positive for high-risk cervical human papillomavirus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Kirsty F Bennett, Jo Waller, Julia V Bailey, Laura A V Marlow

Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Health Psychology
Early online date12 Jul 2022
Accepted/In press13 Jun 2022
E-pub ahead of print12 Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: KB was funded by a Medical Research Council Studentship (MR/N013867/1). JW and LM were funded by Cancer Research UK (C7492/A17219). Publisher Copyright: © 2022 The Authors. British Journal of Health Psychology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Psychological Society.


King's Authors


OBJECTIVES: To examine the psychosexual impact and disclosure experiences of women testing HPV-positive following cervical screening.

DESIGN: In-depth semi-structured interviews.

METHODS: Interviews were conducted with 21 women of screening age (i.e. those aged 24-65 years) in England who self-reported testing HPV-positive in the context of cervical screening in the last 12 months. Data were analysed using Framework Analysis.

RESULTS: The sexually transmitted nature of HPV, and aspects relating to the transmission of HPV and where their HPV infection had come from, had an impact on women's current, past and future interpersonal and sexual relationships. Most women had disclosed their HPV infection to others, however the factors influencing their decision, and others' reactions to disclosure differed. The magnitude and extent of psychosexual impact was influenced by how women conceptualized HPV, their understanding of key aspects of the virus, concerns about transmitting HPV and having a persistent HPV infection.

CONCLUSIONS: Increasing knowledge of key aspects of HPV, such as its high prevalence and spontaneous clearance, and the differences between HPV and other STIs, may increase women's understanding of their screening result and reduce any negative psychosexual consequences of testing HPV-positive. Referring to HPV as an infection that is passed on by skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity, rather than an STI, may help to lessen any psychosexual impact triggered by the STI label.

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