Sarah Casper of ‘Comprehensive Consent’: “Focus on the “why” not the “how””

Focus on the “why” not the “how” When I started on my journey, my goal was to facilitate consent workshops in schools. When COVID-19 began to spread, though, I realized that while this was how I wanted to achieve my goal, my real goal was to give kids and teens a deeper understanding of body boundaries […]

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Focus on the “why” not the “how”

When I started on my journey, my goal was to facilitate consent workshops in schools. When COVID-19 began to spread, though, I realized that while this was how I wanted to achieve my goal, my real goal was to give kids and teens a deeper understanding of body boundaries and practical experience with consent. My true “why” is what matters. The “how” is just a vehicle to get me there.

If I just focused on the “how”, I wouldn’t have a company. The “how” depends on who your audience is and what resources you have access to in a given moment. Because these variables can change, your “how” can change. Refocus your efforts and stay on track through difficult moments by remembering your truest “why.”

The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.

As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Casper, a consent educator and the founder of Comprehensive Consent ( — an educational brand devoted to helping parents develop their child’s understanding of consent and their practical ability to navigate body boundaries. Driven by a proactive approach, Sarah’s motto is, “you can cross your fingers and hope they figure it out or you can give them a comprehensive consent education.” Sarah uses the pronouns she/her and her name is pronounced like “Sah-rah.”

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

The most defining feature of my childhood is that my parents were, and still are, observant Modern Orthodox Jews and have raised their five children to be the same. I’m the youngest child in my family, with four older brothers. Our religion dictated many practical aspects of my life — we lived in a Jewish community in Northern New Jersey, my brothers and I attended private Jewish schools from grades K-12, we went to synagogue every Sabbath, and we only ate Kosher food.

By the time I was 16, my relationship with Modern Orthodoxy began to unravel. Many assumed that it was rooted in teenage rebellion. People have asked, “What was the first Jewish law you broke?” and the answer is that I did my math homework on the Sabbath. So, trust me, it wasn’t rebellion. It just didn’t feel right in my body to follow someone else’s laws about how to use my Saturdays, what to eat, what to wear, and how to connect with god or spirituality.

Looking back, I see the ways that Judaism impacted my understanding of my personal autonomy and I’m sure is part of the reason I’m in my line of work.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Dr. Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Whether it’s to a student, a parent, or even myself, I probably say this phrase at least once a day.

It’s so easy to get caught up in a shame-spiral for past actions. But that doesn’t lead to positive change; it just leaves a person helpless, drowning in their self-pity. I love this quote because it’s a reminder that growth is continuous and learning is a process. Don’t expect yourself to know everything or be good at everything. Do the best you can with the hand you are holding, actively work to improve, and repeat.

For the most part, I believe people are often doing their best to navigate intimate experiences. But sexual assault is still so common because too often, at least in the US, a person’s “best” is rooted in depictions in film and TV of men “romantically” grabbing women without asking, of boys and young men being teased and bullied for being disinterested in sex, and of women and girls changing themselves to look and behave in a way that society tells them is desirable, but then being slut-shamed if they act on their desires. A person’s “best” is, too often, rooted in an internalized prejudice of a person’s weight, skin color, race, ability, gender expression, and gender identity, as well as, internalized toxic masculinity.

Teenagers are inundated with harmful messages and don’t receive any real consent education to counteract them. It’s our responsibility to better educate ourselves and our young people so that we can all know better, and do better.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

People often ask me why children need to learn about consent and I always quote Dan Heath’s book, Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen,in response. He writes, “every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”

Like many, I was shocked by how many stories of sexual assault have been shared since the #MeToo movement. But then I realized — our system is designed to get these results.

We develop our understanding of the world when we are just children. This is when a person learns how to be a good friend, how to communicate, how to deal with frustration, etc. But it’s also when a person learns that being a “good boy/girl/child” means listening to the person in charge and being “nice” means forgoing your needs for the needs of others.

By the age of two, parents are already inadvertently teaching children to ignore their body’s signals through demands like, “finish all your food” (even though they’re not hungry) or “go give Grandma a hug” (even though they want space). And on top of this, many parents create body-shame and sex-shame in children through statements like, “that’s yucky, don’t touch your privates” and “don’t say ‘penis,’ it’s a bad word.” “Penis” is not a bad word; it’s a body part.

When looking at all of these factors, I’m sadly not surprised that 1 in 3 women will experience sexual assault in her lifetime. We teach our children to be ashamed of their bodies, to ignore their bodies’ cues, and to accommodate others’ needs before their own.

We don’t teach kids about consent nor do we equip them with the practical social-emotional skills to have conversations about the body and touch. Then, in junior high or high school, they have their first romantic or sexual encounter and they don’t know what to do. They’re not prepared to communicate about their body boundaries because they don’t want to experience shame or “be mean.” Even if a child does learn about consent in high school, the problem isn’t solved because they’re still getting harmful messages about consent, their body, and their needs, and have been for years.

Many teenagers and adults fall into the “knowing-doing gap” when it comes to consent. They know about consent and want to practice it, but haven’t been prepared to actually practice it.

Between the mixed messages about body autonomy, the lack of comprehensive consent education, and the dangerous lessons imparted by film, TV, and society that I spoke about before, I can’t say I’m surprised by the prevalence of sexual assault in our country.

Dan Heath’s Upstream gives me language for why I do what I do. We can’t expect a change in these results unless we change the system that’s setting us up for these results. We must go further upstream to prevent issues that are happening downstream. I teach consent to kids for exactly this reason.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?

When I hear the phrase “career experience,” I chuckle a little bit because my professional background is not the typical “9–5.” In my professional life, I’ve worked at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) as a coordinator in their Organizational Psychology department, interned at NYU Child Study Center on a number of their programs for kids with ADHD, taught adult and children’s yoga classes, and waitressed for a year in Utah where I lived right outside of Arches National Park.

Each of these jobs has contributed to the work I do know, but the experience that most defined how I got to teaching consent was a hobby of mine. Three years ago, while living in Utah, I started to practice acroyoga.

Unlike acrobatic practices that utilize apparatuses like trapeze, ariel silks, or lyra, acroyoga (acro) is a partnered practice that relies on people working together with their bodies to create poses and movement. This is why every acro class begins with a conversation about practicing consent. Then, throughout every class, you’re actually building consent skills by advocating for your body, your boundaries, and your needs while also listening to the bodies, boundaries, and needs of your partners. This all takes place in an environment that is completely non-sexual but completely generalizable to sex.

So, to answer your original question. When the pandemic hit, I was working at MSK and teaching kids’ yoga classes, but I was also deeply involved in my acroyoga practice and that was a career game-changer.

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

As with any pivot, timing is key. Exactly one month before schools closed in New York City, I ran my first consent workshop for eighth-graders at a charter school in Brooklyn. The goal of the workshop was to provide students with practical experience navigating consent and body boundaries in their platonic relationships so that they would be more prepared for romantic and sexual relationships in the future.

At this point, Comprehensive Consent wasn’t an established company. The workshop was a one-off educational tool I created in my free time based on my background in child psychology, education, and yoga. I cold-emailed some schools in the area describing my experience and the goal of the workshop and the Young Women’s Leadership School of Brooklyn was excited to provide the learning opportunity to their students.

The workshop went better than expected and I had what every entrepreneur craves — proof of concept. I was pumped.

But then the Pandemic began.

I thought about teaching the workshop remotely, but its whole premise was to give students practical experience navigating body boundaries. I just didn’t see how it would work on a virtual platform.

This is when I decided to turn the purpose of my workshop into the purpose of a company. I decided to move from a one-workshop offering to a brand devoted to teaching consent to kids of all ages.

I began to deepen my conceptualization of consent. I broke the practice of consent into its component parts and, heavily informed by my experience in child development and behavioral psychology, I began to see the practice of consent as a combination of social and emotional skills specific to navigating touch. For example, being assertive and identifying body language are social skills; handling rejection and finding the courage to say “no” to someone you love requires emotional intelligence.

With this breakdown of consent into practical and developable skills, I created an online course for parents to learn with their children. Since elementary school-age children were going to be home with their parents all day, I designed a program with games, activities, and discussion questions for parents and kids to learn about practicing consent in a fun and engaging way that still had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with empowerment, social skills, emotional intelligence, and bodily autonomy.

In July of this year, Comprehensive Consent became incorporated and the parenting course, Boundary-Setting Bootcamp, went live. I have since run other virtual workshops such as, “Creating Consent-Culture in the Home” and “How Coping and Communication Can Teach Your Child about Consent,” I’m so excited for what else is to come.

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

My “Aha moment” hit me about two years ago, well before the pandemic. While my friends and I were at an acroyoga gathering in Washington Square Park, in NYC, I started to notice that the language we use to navigate acroyoga is the exact language necessary for healthy intimate and sexual encounters. In every acro practice, we use phrases like “are you comfortable?”, “I’m not ready to try that,” “would you like to try this instead?”.

This was my lightbulb moment. I started to think of consent in terms of generalizable skills required for communicating and navigating all body boundaries.

I believe one of the reasons people forgo consent practices is because they learned consent is about sex. If a teen, or even an adult, is uncomfortable with sex and sexuality or they’re not interested in talking about sex, then, of course, they’re going to have trouble setting body boundaries and having consent conversations. Because of the way they were taught about consent (either within a sex education class or from general media), they’ve never practiced these skills and they’ve associated them entirely with something that makes them uncomfortable.

Instead of linking consent to sex, alone, we need to start teaching kids that consent is about their bodily autonomy and their body rights in all situations — from hugs with mom to acroyoga to your first kiss. Consent is about making sure a person (no matter their age) knows how to identify and navigate their boundaries and how to respect the boundaries of others.

How are things going with this new initiative?

In just five months, I’ve launched an online course, hosted several workshops and webinars, and grown to over 3,000 followers on Instagram, while reaching thousands more. This is a huge win for consent education.

With COVID-19 at large, this has been an especially interesting moment in time to talk about boundaries. People are universally more interested in learning about how to navigate body-boundaries in non-sexual settings. I’ve received many messages from people interested in how to have these conversations with relatives, neighbors, and friends. I love seeing to see how the boundary-setting skills I teach are not only being used to help create consent culture, but also being used to help keep people safe from spreading this virus.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

The only time I have ever used the phrase “love at first sight” is in relation to my friend, Colline.

We met in an acroyoga class two and a half years ago. We hadn’t worked together during class, but after class, we were both jamming out to some 90’s song playing over the speakers when our eyes locked. We continued to sing and dance without a care in the world as we moved towards each other. The song ended and we burst out into laughter. We’ve been close friends ever since.

Colline has the most incredible “let’s do this” energy. Moments after meeting, we were talking about our shared love of the beach and I invited her to join me and some friends at the beach that weekend. I think many people would be hesitant to go to the beach with someone they just met. They’d ask themselves questions like, “what if I don’t like them?” or “what if they don’t like me?”. But Colline’s energy is “what if I really like them?” and “what if we get along really well?”.

I’m pretty sure if I came to anyone else with my idea about consent and acroyoga before it was fully fleshed out, they’d say I was crazy. They would tell me how risky it was and point out all the ways a workshop could go wrong or my effort could be wasted. But Colline saw the passion in me and saw the potential for greatness. She gave me “let’s do this” energy and the encouragement I needed to follow my intuition.

She’s the most supportive person I know and I am so grateful for her friendship.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

When I launched my company, I expected my audience to be made up of parents and maybe some teachers interested in resources for their children and students. To my surprise, however, much of my audience falls outside of these parameters. I’ve received nearly a hundred messages on Instagram from people who share that they use my resources and my words as a way to “re-parent” themselves (a term I had never heard before) or learn what they wish they learned as a child.

I received my first message like this from a woman who was a victim of child sexual abuse and, as an adult, sexual assault. She told me that my posts over the recent weeks had given her hope about her ability to heal and to set boundaries in the future.

The whole premise of my work was to prepare children for healthy relationships but what I’ve learned is that so many adults still need help in this area, too.

People overlook consent as something that’s simple or that they’ll just “figure out” on their own. But the data show that consent isn’t being practiced and that body boundaries are being regularly violated and ignored.

It’s been interesting to see the unintended impact of my work and I can’t wait to see what else might come of it.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. You don’t need the degree

I’m a doctoral program dropout. I was a student at the top PsyD program in the country and I left. It was terrifying. I held the belief that a degree meant I was worthy of sharing my ideas. But if you have a good idea, you are already worthy of sharing it. Get a degree if you want to learn the material or if the job you really want requires it. Don’t get the degree just because you think you need to.

2. Focus on the “why” not the “how”

When I started on my journey, my goal was to facilitate consent workshops in schools. When COVID-19 began to spread, though, I realized that while this was how I wanted to achieve my goal, my real goal was to give kids and teens a deeper understanding of body boundaries and practical experience with consent. My true “why” is what matters. The “how” is just a vehicle to get me there.

If I just focused on the “how”, I wouldn’t have a company. The “how” depends on who your audience is and what resources you have access to in a given moment. Because these variables can change, your “how” can change. Refocus your efforts and stay on track through difficult moments by remembering your truest “why.”

3. Engage on social media platforms.

Forget leaving emojis as comments, “liking” content without reading captions, and “follow-for-follow” groups. Don’t engage on social media because a digital marketer told you to do so.

This is what I did. It was exhausting, fruitless, and made social media a chore. Instead, engage on social media because when you do so mindfully, it can be so rewarding.

It was only a month into launching my company when I realized the true value of engagement. High engagement numbers are great but they’re meaningless compared to what true engagement gives you. I’ve has incredible conversations through DMs and comment sections. I’ve learned about myself and others by reading captions instead of trying to play to “the algorithm.”

Thoughtfully engaging on social media can be such a positive force in your life and your business. It will allow you to connect with new people, gain new perspectives, and even collaborate with others you admire. Engage on social media and engage for real.

4. Be vulnerable.

If you’re looking to grow as a leader, a person, or a business, get comfortable being imperfect because perfection has nowhere to go.

Sharing your “imperfections” makes space for the people around you to do the same. Whether it be your team or your audience, being vulnerable makes room for others to share their wants and needs; it allows you to genuinely connect with them.

I use to just provide education on my platform because that’s what I thought people wanted. What people truly want, though, is to know that they are not alone. Now, in addition to providing educational content, I often share stories about the ways I’ve misunderstood consent, the ways I’ve made mistakes, what I do differently now, and what they can do, too.

5. There is enough room for everyone

When I launched in July, I truly thought I was going to be the only consent educator on social media. I became both nervous and jealous when I saw that there were other accounts focused on teaching consent to kids. I oscillated between, “someone’s already doing this so why should I bother” and “I can’t believe they’re doing this; I have a much better way.”

Then, thankfully, I realized how crazy I sounded. I actively shifted my inner voice to “How great is it that other people are also on this mission?! The more people doing this work, the better!”. I often consider how our country’s focus on individualism, rather than collectivism, harms us. This is one of those ways.

After I realized what a pleasure it was to have other people doing this work, I looked more closely at their profiles and that’s when I realized they were so different from me! We all want to empower children and eliminate sexual violence but our approaches, personalities, skills, biases, habits, resources, are all so different.

If you think you’re doing the same thing as someone, you’re not. Because you are doing it, it’s already different. And if you’re in a “helping” profession, take a moment to be glad that others are committed to your mission, too.

So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?

This will either come to you as a total surprise or no surprise at all — touch has been one of my most valuable coping strategies this past year.

Touch is magic! Well, actually it’s science. Research shows that touch is an incredibly effective way to reduce stress. When you experience a wanted hug or cuddle, your body both decreases its levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and increases its levels of oxytocin (the trust hormone).

With the pandemic still at large, this isn’t always accessible in a safe way but that’s where creativity comes in. Personally, I love to snuggle with my dog or sleep with a weighted comforter. Hugging a pillow or cuddling up with a soft blanket are also wonderful alternatives. For those of you who are quarantining with people you enjoy hugging, here’s your reminder to ask for a hug. We’re all lacking physical touch and this isn’t something to be ashamed of.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I want to reshape the way people think about consent. Consent isn’t about knowing if you got a “yes” or “no.” Consent is about listening to the boundaries and interests of others, sharing your boundaries and interests, and clarifying if there’s a mutual interest. Consent is an ongoing process that says, “I respect you and I care about your wants and needs. And I respect my wants and needs, too.”

To make this happen, it’s so important to acknowledge that sexual assault is not just committed by terrible people lurking in the shadows. People you know and love are guilty of sexual assault — of making a sexual advance without consent. We must start believing victims when they talk about their assaults, we must stop gender-stereotyping (excusing men and disparaging women), and lastly, we must stop shaming people’s bodies. It’s really hard to communicate about something you feel ashamed of. These are barriers to creating a consent culture and barriers to reducing the rate of sexual assault.

There is a lot of work to be done but it so worth it.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

Sonya Renee Taylor, without a doubt. Her book, The Body is Not an Apology, is foundational to having a true consent practice.

I believe the truest form of consent is only possible with Taylor’s concept of “radical self-love,” because to practice consent, you must respect your body and the other person’s body. You must deeply know that your body is not more valuable than theirs and their body is not more valuable than yours.

In our current society, we value certain bodies above others. Characteristics like skin color, physical ability, body parts, gender expression, weight, etc. determine your value in the eyes of society. This is exactly what sets people up for an unhealthy relationship with body boundaries and an unhealthy relationship with pleasure. This is also why in regard to race, the highest incidence of sexual assault is on women of color (specifically Native American women), in regard to sexual orientation, lesbian and bisexual women experience sexual assault at a higher rate than heterosexual women, and why almost 50% of the transgender population will be sexually assaulted at one point in their life.

Mutual respect is the key to healthy and honest consent conversations. But if you value another person’s body less than yours, or if you value your body less than someone else’s, how can you expect to have a conversation about body boundaries and body pleasure that comes from a place of mutual respect?

To radically love yourself means that you advocate for your body’s wants, for what pleasures your body because you deeply know that every “body” has the right to pleasure.

To radically love yourself means that you realize your body’s wants are not more important than the boundaries of someone else because you deeply know that no “body” is more important than another.

I deeply admire Sonya Renee Taylor’s work and it would be incredible to sit down with her and further explore the implications of body shame and the “body hierarchy,” on consent.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find me at and on Instagram @comprehensiveconsent

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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