If you are a sexually active man or woman, it's important to be aware of the risk of sexually transmitted infections, such as HPV, or human papillomavirus. There are a lot of misconceptions about this disease, which may get you in trouble if you happen to believe them. Here's a look at these common misconceptions -- and the real truth.

Misconception #1: HPV does not cause any symptoms.

It is true that HPV can be symptomless, and that it can be passed from person to person even when the infected person does not show any symptoms. The idea that it is a harmless, symptomless disease, however, is completely false. Certain strains of HPV cause cervical cancer in women. Certain cancers of the vulva, throat, penis, and anus are also caused by HPV. This breaks another misconception -- that only women are really affected by the disease.

Misconception #2: The HPV vaccine only works sometimes, so it's not really worth getting it.

Actually, the HPV vaccine is an extremely effective vaccine. Clinical trials of the two approved HPV vaccines found that they were nearly 100% effective in preventing infections with the strains of HPV that cause cancer. It is important to note, however, that in order for the vaccine to be as effective as possible, patients must receive all three of the required doses.

Misconception #3: HPV can only be spread during sexual intercourse.

The disease can actually be spread during any type of intimate sexual contact, including anal and oral sex. Men can pass HPV to both male and female partners, and females can spread HPV to both male and female partners. Using condoms may lower the risk of HPV infection, as may limiting one's number of sexual partners.

Misconception #4: You won't get HPV unless you have sex with someone who has had many partners or is sexually irresponsible.

A person only has to have sexual contact with another individual one time in order to pick up HPV. The disease is remarkably common -- at least 50% of people who have sex develop it at some point in their lives. It's not just a disease experienced by people who have multiple partners, though that does increase a person's risk. Many people never have symptoms and the disease goes away on its own without them ever knowing they passed it on to someone else.

If you're a sexually active male or female, make sure you talk to your doctor or gynecologist about HPV. He or she can answer any other questions you may have about this STD, the way it is spread, and the issues that it causes.