Warning to parents: Kids are learning about sex on YouTube

Children used to learn about sex on the street – either from friends, those weird older kids who'd smoke behind the dumpster, or a friend's older and ostensibly wiser sibling. Web 2.0, of course, has changed all this. Instead of getting the goods from an unreliable source in person, a recent study suggests that kids are turning to the likes of YouTube, Google (GOOG) and Facebook, among others.

The study, conducted by technology security company Symantec (SYMC), puts expressions such as "sex" and "porn" at the top of search lists.

Of the top 100 searches from February to July, the most popular was "YouTube." In a wholesome turn of events, "Fred Figglehorn," a character enjoyed by (and appropriate for) children snuck into the top 10 at #9. Many searched for searches, with "Google" coming in at #2 and "Yahoo" (YHOO) taking #7. Facebook was the third most popular search, and MySpace came in fifth.

The list is based on 3.5 million searches that were monitored by OnlineFamily.Norton, a Symantec tool that shows parents where there kids are going on the Web. The company hopes that the study will highlight "teachable" moments in children's lives, where parents can intervene to provide accurate and age-appropriate answers to the questions they may have.

What the study also reveals, likely without having been intended, is the size of the shadow porn economy that has developed in the mainstream search and social media sector. Every execution of a search on two of those top items – i.e., sex and porn – results in a financial transaction, as advertisers pay any number of sites where this occurs: Google, Flickr, Yahoo and so on.

It signals a shift in online adult entertainment revenue from adult entertainment companies – which are struggling to bring in the cash – to mainstream internet behemoths that, through sheer volume of users, winds up engaged in the adult entertainment business, at least indirectly.

The net result, of course, is a much more complicated business and user environment. Major online players need to balance the revenue they draw from adult-oriented search expressions and content, and families need to be aware of the ways in which mainstream websites can be used to access information that may not be age-appropriate. Thus, for parents, Symantec's implicit suggestion to monitor and reach out when necessary is as prudent as you'll find.

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