This question comes up a lot, from both guys and gals. I'm glad you asked it, jreyn, as it's good for us to cover because others are no doubt wondering, too.
Ok, for some background there are now several HPV DNA tests available in the U.S. to detect the virus in women as part of cervical cancer screening. One big thing to note is that even with women, use of these tests is very limited to two specific situations:
1) As follow-up for women with borderline Pap test results. In other words, some abnormal cells were found, but it isn't clear what the heck might be going on. If women with these Pap test results then turn out to be negative for HPV, they'll probably just repeat the Pap down the road. If she is positive for HPV, though, they'll likely be a bit more cautious in how they handle her and will send her for additional diagnostics (even though the risk of her having anything dangerous is still really low)
2) As routine screening, along with a Pap, for women age 30 and over. Now, they do this because HPV in a woman over 30 is more likely to be a lingering infection that, while probably still not dangerous, is still something they want to keep an eye on.
So....all that's to say that HPV testing can help health care providers figure out which women need a little extra TLC and some additional tests, even though the vast majority of them will still be just fine.
They do NOT use HPV tests for women as a general means of checking their infection status...it's only used as part of screening for cervical cancer, period. A very specific, limited use for women.
Why isn't the test approved for men? Primarily because men don't have an equivalent disease to cervical cancer for which HPV testing would be helpful. Men do get HPV-associated conditions, sure, but penile cancers are even more rare than cervical diseases, and knowing a man's HPV status is of little value to health care providers in determining next steps in his care. With women, knowing her status is important and helpful. And that's the key....can the test really have an impact that HELPS us figure out the best follow-up care for someone? With women, the answer is a clear "yes." With men, it's much more murky.
Does that help? Hope so!