The most common symptoms of an HPV infection are genital warts or cervical smear abnormalities.
Most people have an HPV infection and are not aware of it because it is subclinical, i.e. invisible to the naked eye. It is also possible that some people may have genital warts without knowing it, as some warts may be hard to see.
The period between contracting the HPV virus type that causes warts and seeing the developed warts, varies so this can make it impossible to know when you were infected. Often, HPV warts will appear three to six months after sexual relations with an infected person; or they may take months to appear; or they may never appear. Likewise, the interval between an infection with HPV and a cervical smear abnormality can vary from months to decades. Abnormal smears can occur in people who have not been sexually active for many years. This makes it hard to know exactly when or from whom you got the HPV virus.
Such inconsistencies can be difficult to understand – especially for partners in long-term relationships who feel that some recent infidelity must be to blame. Partners will inevitably share HPV. There is no way to know which partner it came from or how long ago. Having HPV does not mean that a person or their partner is having sex outside the current relationship.
Evidence suggests that the majority of individuals who have ever been sexually active experience one or more genital HPV infections during their lifetime. Most HPV infections clear spontaneously.