Gaming, beauty and comedy channels have been widely covered in the press ever since “YouTuber” became a proper job title, but the latest community to gain media attention centres on a curious phenomenon known as ASMR. Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response is a tingling, euphoric sensation which is only felt by certain people, and is induced by all manner of various stimuli, especially sounds like whispering.
Videos which purposefully trigger ASMR have become wildly popular on YouTube, and as with any other phenomenon, a small number of creators have been able to carve out reputations as influencers, with vast, loyal fan bases. Among the most popular YouTuber channels in this new field are ASMR Angel, Gentle Whispering, AMSR Requests, Heather Feather, Olivia’s Kissper, and Ephemeral Rift (a rare male presence in a female-dominated sphere).
Their videos comprise all manner of subtle sound effects, like speaking softly, brushing hair, wrapping gifts, drinking coffee, and shuffling paper, each designed to conjure a feeling of warmth and safety. Some viewers watch the videos as a form of stress relief, while others say it helps them sleep, and ASMR content has been proven to be effective in helping to manage chronic pain conditions, and as a treatment for anxiety and depression.
As the community has grown, the videos themselves have evolved; for example, ASMR Requests has ventured into original storytelling with a science fiction series based around a “space travel agent”. There are even erotic takes on the genre; one creator in particular has ruffled quite a few feathers among ASMR aficionados with her videos, which often feature her in revealing lingerie and focus on the more overtly sensual aspects of sound.
Erotic ASMR certainly doesn’t seem like a giant leap, considering a key component to many videos is fostering a sensation of intimacy or connection. But fans are split on whether “ASMR porn” is simply a natural progression of a popular online trend, or something which risks discrediting other, beloved creators and the community as a whole.
In a recent podcast, comedian Isy Suttie describes ASMR as the closest a human being can get to purring, and explores the possibility that it has the potential to function as a source of inspiration, and might be able to drive creativity in unconventional ways. “It’s very visceral, and hard to measure or prove,” she says, “and I think the oddness of it probably puts scientists off if they don’t experience it themselves.” Suttie describes her own triggers as incredibly varied; apparently, a plot twist in Downton Abbey can literally send shivers down her spine.
The psychological and physiological aspects of ASMR are currently being studied at Sheffield University. And while the whys and wherefores of ASMR might not be scientifically explained any time soon, that won’t stop hundreds of thousands of users from logging on and getting the tingles.