Background  Sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) high-risk types cause carcinoma and low-risk types lead to warts of genitoanal area. Since the HPV vaccine has been introduced, awareness of HPV infection, prevention and health-related behaviour have not been studied in a large sample of young women in Germany.

Objectives  Assessment of awareness and health-related behaviour regarding HPV infection and prevention among young German females.

Methods  In 2010, a postal cross-sectional survey was conducted with a random representative sample size (n = 2000) of females aged 19–35 attending Germany’s largest (comprehensive) university, which was designed to obtain data about socio-demographics, the awareness of sexually transmitted HPV, genitoanal neoplasms and their prevention, HPV vaccine, immunisation and cervical cancer screening.

Results  Of the 547 (27.3%) participants, 69.1% had heard of HPV, 62.5% were aware of the vaccine, 14.4% were vaccinated and 6.9% reported a history of sexually transmitted infection, including HPV (2.7%). The HPV-related knowledge among those who had heard of it was high (75.1–99.7%), except of that HPV affects men (52.9%) and HPV’s causative role in genital (54.2%) and anal (35.6%) warts, and smoking (11.3%) as an HPV risk factor. The lower HPV knowledge score (<median = 12, ranged 1–17) was predicted by studying social sciences/humanities (OR = 3.68, 95% CI 1.99–6.79) and non-participation in cervical cancer screening (OR = 2.04, 95% CI 1.02–4.07).

Conclusion  This survey reveals an insufficient HPV awareness and low vaccination prevalence among young German women, underscoring the urgent need for HPV-related education aimed at reducing the burden of HPV-induced genitoanal neoplasms.