Explaining Love and Sexuality to Children

elephant mom and baby

How do we help children discover the true nature and beauty of human sexuality in a culture obsessed with redefining it?  Faith, common sense and an old celibate Pope can teach us a lot.

It’s pretty obvious that human beings are designed for relationship. What is often forgotten is that each and every relationship is a trinity. Every human interaction involves not just the 2 persons, but it also involves God, present and active with them. Each moment is offered to us by God as an opportunity to express love. To explain sexuality, you have to understand the nature of love.

The Roman Catholic Church holds on to a lot of old fashioned stuff. Ancient languages, for one thing. In understanding the nature of love that God created sexuality to express, a few Greek and Latin words are actually really helpful. English only has one word for love, so we are confused from the get-go. Greek has several dimensions of love, three of which can be simplified to help in our conversations, especially with children:

PHILEO: Brotherly love.

This is the love that is a kiss on the cheek.

The love and affection of brothers and sisters. It’s the care and commitment that says, “I’ve got your back.”  This orientation of love should and can be the basis of every relationship we have with everyone we meet.  Men and women, and boys and girls are all called to treat each other as loving siblings. Phileo is warmth and caring for each other as family. This is a love we can share with many people that is broad and wide.


EROS: Love Between a Husband and Wife (Latin word would be Amore)

This is the love that kisses on the lips.

This is the intense one-on-one love in which unites a man and a woman permanently. The passion of this love in powerful. This is the married love that makes children. It’s the love that tells God, “I love him or her so much, I want you to make us a family together.” The amazing complementarity of physical sexual differences were made for this union.

Healthy Eros/Amore Love is:  FREE (Never forced or coerced), TOTAL (Give all of me, my whole life, to you) FAITHFUL (Requires self-control to give myself only to you for all of my life) and FRUITFUL (Welcoming children as the natural fruit of love). These concepts about love were developed by that wise and wonderful Pope Saint John Paul II. When any of these qualities are missing in an Eros/Amore Love relationship, selfishness damages the connection and harms the people involved.


AGAPE: Self-less love (In Latin it’s called Caritas or Charity).

This is the love that is a kiss on the feet.

It’s God’s kind of love. It has mercy, justice, generosity, delight, and faithfulness all mixed together. Agape or charity is so much more than giving something to or doing something for a good cause and feeling good about it. Charity is the “I’d die for you” love. It’s the, “I sacrifice me willingly for you…in large and small ways,” love.


Each relationship in our life is meant to lead us to God’s love. Our Phileo love is designed to be the path that leads us, and those in relationship with us, to AGAPE/Caritas love with God and each other. The Agape form of Phileo is the love of heaven where we will all be brothers and sisters. In heaven we won’t be friends or strangers, husbands or wives, parents or children. The way we relate to each other will be as God’s children…siblings!

EROS/Amore love is also meant to give each spouse an opportunity to grow toward AGAPE/Caritas love with God and each other.  A married couple who live like siblings or friends are missing out on the way passionate intimacy can lead them to God. People who share the physical intimacy of husband and wife without the free, total, faithful and fruitful bond, distort and damage what should and can be loving brother and sister relationships. Eros between siblings rejects God’s plan and his presence. It sidetracks us from the Agape/Caritas love that God created us for.

Childhood is a time to appreciate love. Adolesence is the time to prepare and begin to be loving. Purity in thought and chastity in actions are what enables us to love everyone as a true sibling and prepare for the day when we can give ourselves completely to one person as a spouse. That husband and wife relationship, unique in all the world, is the place we personally help our beloved get to heaven and together our love gives birth…to children, growing God’s family here on earth.

The way our human sexuality expresses love, especially in marriage, are so special to God He gave us three commandments about it:

Do not commit adultery.

Meaning: Marriage is a lifelong union to one other person.

Do not covet another’s wife or husband.

Meaning: Purity in our thoughts helps us stay faithful to the man or woman who is or will be our spouse.

Honor your mother and father:

Meaning:  The special intimacy of a man and woman that begets children is sacred and deserves honor.

No matter what courts or culture, friends or relatives might say, God designed human sexuality with a grand and beautiful plan. It was where God put Himself in bondage. He created the union of male and female sexuality to be the unique way that the love of 2 human beings cooperates with Him in creating children. Without our cooperation no new eternal lives can begin.

May we all be faithful in our selfless openness to the love: Phileo, Eros and Agape, that leads us to God.

Photo by:  Christopher T. Cooper