Relaxation Nation: The ASMR Phenomenon

When I was a young teenager, remember a day when I was scrolling down my Tumblr dashboard, as young teenagers of my generation often did. I came across a video that was strange, but blew my mind. It was a close up of a woman and her hands, tapping for ten or twenty minutes on various books. Young me could feel tingles up and down my spine, in my temples, over the top of my head. It was a strange, but familiar sensation, something I had felt often before in quiet classrooms, when a teacher would whisper to me advice as the other students worked. In libraries, when the ambient noise of strangers sifting through pages bathed me in a sense of calm. The comments on the post were all in agreement that this odd video was strangely satisfying. It “tingled” as everyone said, and was relaxing. That, despite me not knowing yet what people called it, was my introduction to ASMR.

The term ASMR is thrown around a lot, but not many people actually know what it means. ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and is described on Wikipedia as “a tingling sensation that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine.” This is essentially how I would describe my experience with it as well. This response is of essentially unknown origin, but a few studies (one and another, for example) have been done on the matter, though there is nowhere enough data. Have you ever experienced this sensation? I find, in my day-to-day life, more people do not experience ASMR than do. That being said, there are over 13 million videos designed to stimulate ASMR on YouTube today, and that number grows steadily every day.

These videos come in two basic forms: trigger videos and role-plays. Trigger videos are basic involve the production of sounds and visuals that instill an ASMR response in the viewer. These triggers include tapping, whispering, rustling, and a variety of other soft sounds. The other category, role-plays, focus more on the video creator simulating a physical experience, such as a haircut, spa visit, or doctor’s visit, and this personal attention is what triggers the ASMR. Personally, I feel both types of videos have their merits.

So what is it about ASMR that appeals to me? Why do I watch/listen to these videos? What do, and don’t, I get out of it? Well, for starters, it feels nice. Most people who experience would refer to it as “euphoric.” The tingles are a tangibly physical sensation, and when ASMR is triggered that sensation takes over and my whole body relaxes as a response to it. Oftentimes, the feeling of joy and relaxation is so strong that I fall asleep. This is evidently common, as the majority of ASMR consumers use the videos to fall asleep, myself included.

One common misconception about ASMR is that it is inherently sexual in nature– in fact, early colloquialisms for the term used the word “orgasm” to describe the peak in euphoria those who experience ASMR feel, but it was met with majority opposition as the community expanded. This word was replaced with “meridian” with the significance being “a point or period of highest development, greatest prosperity, or the like.” For the most part, people who experience ASMR don’t think of it as a sexual thing. It’s a separate sensation completely, more relaxing and peaceful than energizing and stimulating.

That being said, there is a community of people who do find sexual gratification from ASMR. ASMR videos that are curated with the express purpose of arousing the listener are called “ASMRotica” and have their own niche place in the community. What do I think about this? Who cares? You do you. I understand how ASMR could be an arousing experience for someone– it’s intimate, someone pretty in front of you caring for you and expressing love for you. If people want to dedicate a specific subculture for that, by all means let them. The rest of us, though, will continue to enjoy ASMR as a relaxing, deeply soothing experience to lull us into meditation or sleep.

Many people find ASMR unnerving, unsettling or creepy. Honestly, I think that’s completely valid. If you don’t get the tingles, you don’t get the appeal. Since it’s pretty clear that people are simply susceptible to ASMR or they are not, it’s understandable that if you don’t fall into that category, you wouldn’t like the idea of a long video of a stranger speaking softly and poking at your face. However, I do often see comments on ASMR videos of people who claim not to get tingles, but enjoy ASMR anyway for the relaxing effect that puts them at ease. To them, I also say enjoy! ASMR videos are for anyone who wants to experience them, tingles or not.

If you are curious if you experience these tingles, or if you don’t but are interested in the videos/culture, I highly recommend you check out Maria, Tingting, or Latte. They are all beautiful people and they put tremendous effort into their videos. At the very least, I hope you come out of this article understanding that ASMR is more than some strange deviant thing, and that we, just like anyone, just want to relax.

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