Deep in the dungeons of YouTube subcultures, past the cycling dogs and wannabe musicians, down the disgusting hall of extraction videos and around the corner from makeup tutorials, you’ll find the eerily quiet, softly lit realm of ASMR. Its hushed videos of people whispering into the camera, or slowly running their hands over fabric, once a niche craze, have risen in popularity, and last week, the ASMR community reached a major milestone when its biggest star hit one million subscribers.
In her (quiet) thank-you video, Maria, the woman behind the popular Gentle Whispering ASMR account, told her audience: “It’s a huge milestone not just for my channel, but for our whole ASMR community.”
Maria started the account in 2011. In her videos, the 30-year-old Russian-American whispers positive affirmations, folds towels, brushes hair, or slowly turns the pages of a book, anything to trigger ASMR, or the autonomous sensory meridian response. For some, these videos do nothing. (Personally, all the mellow, quiet sounds puts me on edge, and hearing the saliva behind people’s whispers makes me cringe.) But for others, these soft sounds can induce a pleasant tingling down their spine and the back of their skull, as well as a feeling of deep relaxation. Some people call it a “head orgasm,” which is an unfortunate term for what sounds like a pleasant-enough experience.
But despite all the talk of tingles and orgasms, ASMR-tists, the people who create ASMR videos, insist it’s not a fetish.
“It comes off as a little bit creepy just because of the nature of whispering, but when it comes down to it, you can sexualize anything,” says Lilliana, the Pittsburgh-based ASMR-tist behind the Lily Whispers ASMR YouTube account, which has over 150,000 subscribers.
While relatively little is known about ASMR (the term was only coined in 2010), some of its followers claim its calming effect has helped them with feelings of anxiety. Maria started listening to videos to help her relax following her divorce in 2009, and Lilliana said it helped with anxiety her freshman year of college.
“It works and I strongly believe that it works,” Lilliana said.
Check out one of Maria’s introductory videos below, and see if ASMR works for you.