A reader relates to this post about autonomous sensory meridian response:
I probably won’t be the only Dish-head to write you about this, but ASMR is most definitely a physical sensation. It’s not a matter of belief. (Although it tends to attract people who believe in all manner of woo, like Reiki and chakras and so on.) It’s similar to a frisson, or the chills you experience when you hear a particularly moving piece of music. Or a piss shiver. They are all of a piece. I’ve experienced it my whole life, and yes, Bob Ross was the first trigger. For me, it’s a tingling sensation that starts at the nape of the neck and spreads to the scalp.
While it’s very pleasant, it’s not sexual. Many people who experience it, including myself, have some degree of anxiety and related insomnia. Listening to ASMR videos is very helpful for getting my mind to slow down so I can relax and go to sleep.
There is a very good (short) This American Life segment about ASMR here.
Another reader with ASMR grumbles:
Oh god, you did another post about ASMR and yet again managed to insert a non-existent sexual connotation (with the post title “Aural Sex”).
As someone with ASMR for 40 years, who like many others, only learned it was a “thing” that others had from a This American Life episode a few years ago, I cannot overemphasize how annoying and damaging it is to have ASMR related to sexual experiences. I’ve heard it referenced as a “brain orgasm” (what does that even mean?) among other attempts to describe what it is.
But it has nothing to do with sex. It’s a weird, unbelievably pleasant feeling that you get when experience certain things that trigger it, often watching videos of someone doing a monotonous task in a deliberate matter. I describe the feeling as like a rush of endorphins that start in the top-back part of my head and cascade down my spine like a warm waterfall.
So why is it so bad to connect it to sex? What’s the harm? Well consider this: ASMR is weird. It’s something that singularly hard to explain to people that don’t have it. You’re stuck with metaphors. And the easiest one for people who don’t have ASMR to jump to is basically that it’s just like porn. In fact consider this description:
A person loves going to their home office in the evening, locking the door, firing up the computer and searches for videos. He knows what he’s looking for; he has very specific tastes. He can only really get what he needs from certain videos; certain performers. He has them bookmarked. If he has time, he might spend 30 minutes or an hour watching… and the ultimate pleasure he gets is divine.
Am I talking about ASMR there? Or porn?
In many ways, having ASMR a much bigger challenge to admit to others than admitting you watch porn. With porn, you pretty much know that essentially every guy, and most women, watch it. Even if the people you are talking to doesn’t watch it; they get it , they understand it. But with ASMR, it’s much weirder and foreign to them. Is it any surprise they jump to the parallel to porn and assume it’s related to sex?
But it isn’t; and every time I see someone blithely making that connector or offering up a “lightly humorous headline like “Aural Sex” I just want to scream. Especially today… “NOT MY BELOVED DISH!”
But another loved the post:
Thank you! I have experienced ASMR for much of my adult life but never before knew what it was. Now I have a name for the pleasurable tingly feeling in the back of my head I experience from time to time, often in very casual and one might say inappropriate settings.
In fact I first noticed it in my freshman algebra class in high school. I was usually a little drowsy since it was just after lunch. The guy who sat behind me couldn’t keep his mouth shut, but he whispered since we were in class. His deep voice set me off nearly every day. At the time it freaked me out a little. Forgive me, but as a 14 year old in the rural Midwest I was not raised to believe homosexuality was normal or natural, and it worried me that I was getting such a kick out of this guy’s endless monologue.
Fast forward twenty years, and I’m both comfortably heterosexual and comfortable with homosexuals. Yet to this day men, or at least male voices, tend to set off my ASMR more than female voices, though both can do it. I figure it has something to do with the deeper tone, as lower female voices trigger it more often as well. I wouldn’t say it’s sexual necessarily, or at least not exclusively. It’s just an intensely physical pleasure. I’m sorry to learn not everyone experiences it.
Another reader who’s experienced ASMR:
When I was a student a (decidedly unsexy) philosophy prof used to trigger it. So did a young Chinese woman who worked in the youth hostel in Miami Beach in the late ’80s. I would sit listening to her ramble about China for hours, never feeling any sexual attraction to her. But she was fascinating both for platonic reasons and for the physical effects she had on me. It is these people’s detached, disinterested nature that makes me drop all my defences, which seems to be a necessary condition for ASMR in my case.
Sadly, I haven’t experienced it in a long time. Not sure if it’s because I’ve physically changed or because I don’t get out enough (I work from home) or because when you get older you confront fewer people like that.
PS: Had no idea there was a name for this thing. I’ve never known anyone else with it. Thanks so much for posting it. Guess I should subscribe now :)
One more reader:
Just by way of further illustration of the effect Bob Ross had on countless thousands (including many like me who had no intention of even trying to learn to paint). Back in Bob’s heyday, my best friend and I used to toke up, turn on PBS to Ross’ show, and listen – with the brightness control turned to complete darkness so that we could only hear, not see, what he was describing. Now THAT was a trip.