I Love When Strangers Whisper to Me

Yes, this post is exactly as weird as the title suggests. We are going to talk about a trait of mine that my dearest loved ones have collectively described as, “bizarre,” “disturbing,” and “porny.” (I need to find less snarky loves ones. No wait. I don’t – I’d be bored.)

ANYWAY! On to the porny part.

About six months ago, I discovered that I have ASMR. Ready for the long, boring name? Autonomous sensory meridian response. What does that mean? Frick if I know. But some “sciency types” (aka Wikipedia) say that the term ASMR was created to describe a “distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, scalp or peripheral regions of the body in response to visual, auditory, and/or cognitive stimuli.”

Basically, when I experience certain triggers, I get an extremely nice feeling at the base of my neck, up through my scalp, and – if I’ve been a really good girl – down through my back and arms. “It’s getting porny in here! So take off all your autonomous sensory meridian responses!” I know, I know – but it isn’t sexual at all. It is sensual, in that I sense something akin to thumb-sized unicorns gracefully frolicking up and down my brain stem – but mostly, ASMR makes me feel warm and safe.

If this sounds familiar to you in any way, you probably experience ASMR. If I sound like a super freak, the odds are good that you’re with the majority of the population, for whom this is all just hoodoo.

ASMR has been happening to me since the third grade. One day, the school guidance counselor came to my class to give us a quick spiel about “warm fuzzies” and “cold pricklies.”

It was exactly what you’d expect – good emotions are warm fuzzies (embodied by little pink craft pom-poms which she handed around) whereas bad emotions give you cold pricklies (represented by sweet gum burrs, aka the freaking bane of my existence – my dad used to make me collect them out of our front yard).

So, the message was: if anyone says or does something that gives you a cold prickly, tell a trusted adult. And that’s a valuable lesson. BUT. The real thing I held onto from that class was how something in the feel of that warm pom pom “fuzzy” in my hand coupled with the gentle, soothing tone of the counselor sent ripples of sparkly light flowing through my mind. ASMR’D!

I continued to experience this as I grew up. It most often happened when I was being instructed one-on-one by someone I felt close to.

Softball coach, at practice: “Here’s how you hold the bat, Little Jennie.” Tingles!

Middle school computer teacher, leaning over my shoulder: “Here’s how you find the home row keys, Not-Quite-As-Little Jennie.” Tickly lightning down my spine!

My boss, not two weeks ago: “This is how you create columns in that program, Grown-Ass Jennie (who I expect to be professionally paying attention and not experiencing weird bodily responses to a work task).” Cue me trying desperately not to let my shoulders shudder with delight until she left the room.

For me, ASMR comes on in three ways: when an expert in something patiently explains what they do, when someone I trust takes care of me (be it a professional masseuse or my husband being sweet when I’m sick), and also when I hear certain sounds, like paper being crinkled.

Oh, I love me some crinkly paper.

It’s hard to describe ASMR to people who don’t experience it (which, it would seem, only one other person in my close social circle does). The attempt often goes something like this: “I watch these women on YouTube… They whisper to me, and they have really kind faces and they do nice things with their hands while they talk… Yeah, but it has to be the right ladies; they don’t all do it for me…”

Pornier, and pornier, I know. People even call the scalp-tingles “braingasms” for the feeling of release and pleasure they bring on – but that’s the wrong implication. When I get the tingles and no one is around to see, my eyelids half-close, my head droops down, and I become blissfully relaxed and content. I usually fall asleep. I probably drool. Not exactly sexy-times material.

Anyway, there you have it. . That’s my disclosure about my strange YouTube fetish of watching soft-eyed women roll beads around on a wooden surface or pretend to do my make-up. Want a conclusive test of whether you experience ASMR? Try watching one of these videos. They represent the three kinds of triggers that work best for me:

Make-up artist Role Play: This was the first ASMR video I ever saw. I went absolutely bonkers when I realized I didn’t have to wait for the world to incidentally trigger my tingles anymore. This is an example of the “caring” trigger. P.S. These videos are usually very long, but you’ll know within 30 seconds if it’s doing anything for you or just weirding you out.

The Good Witch’s Ways: This is a role play where the ASMRtist (Cute, yeah?) pretends to have found you unconscious in the woods and nurses you back to health. I freely admit: it’s off-the-wall and definitely staged, but it doesn’t matter. Around four minutes in, when she starts to describe the herbs in a tea she’s making, my “expert” trigger goes into overload. This is a perfect video for me – it combines the “expert” theme with someone caring for me as well as some awesome paper sounds.

Calligraphy: This is a very different type of video, because it wasn’t made with the intention of triggering ASMR. It primarily triggers my “sound-based” reaction, but there’s absolutely an element of “expert” in there as well. And, really, this is a beautiful thing to watch even if it doesn’t offer any physical response.

Still with me? So… at this point you are either thanking your lucky stars you read this and are clicking away to watch YouTube for the next five hours, or you are shaking your head at my strange brand of insanity. And, you know what? Shake away – I would too, if this didn’t work for me!

But, at the end of the day, it does work. It puts me right into a trance, it helps me sleep if I’m stressed, and mostly (as stupid as this sounds) it makes me feel loved. I’m fully aware that’s ridiculous – the trigger videos are all basically make-believe or coincidence – but I just don’t care. For whatever magical reason, these videos incite deep pleasure in some watchers, and the video-makers spend hours creating them just so they can offer that gift. So, for as jokey as this blog is, I’m deeply appreciative to have this immense vault of weird, wonderful things that exist just to make me feel good.

My husband, who has no ASMR reaction at all, often picks on me by asking in a creepy demon faux-whisper, “Do you want me to crinkle some paper for you?

You know what, husband? Yes. Yes, I do. And then I will drool on your pillow.

_______________________________________________________

If you’d like to know more about this phenomenon, here are three articles that I read when I first discovered ASMR is a thing and has a community:

1. The Soft Bulletins from Slate (the article that first gave a name to my feeling)

2. ASMR: Orgasms for Your Brain from the Huffington Post (about how ASMR videos are the only cure for the author’s insomnia)

3. ASMR: What is This Tingling Sensation in my Head? –> a blog post with a long list of the most common triggers

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21 responses to “I Love When Strangers Whisper to Me

  1. Soul sistah! Get out. I TOTALLY know this feeling. I had just assumed it had something to do with the back of your head being an erogenous zone (like how getting your hair brushed feels so amazing), but I definitely get those tingles just from hearing whispers.

    And here I thought I’d never want to watch a YouTube video longer than 5 minutes…

    You have rocked my world again today, Jennie.

    • For serious? That’s so awesome! (And so much YES to hair brushing.)

      Well, here’s the entrance to the rabbit hole… I’d love to hear back about which ones you love or hate. It’s such a funny/strange/happy thing to talk about.

      *superhero ring clink*

      • *clink*

        So, okay, the two women’s faces bugged me out to watch, but I kept the entire ‘good witch’ clip playing in the background while I worked (not to worry, I’m working from home, ha) and it was green lights and all rights! So soothing. The part where she makes the tea and crinkles the paper on the table – I’m so with you! It’s so neat to think I could use clips like these as relaxation techniques/way to fall asleep.

        And I only feel 92% creepy about it, knowing I’m not alone.

        *clink*

  2. ASMR at work! So much fun. There you are trying to be professional when someone starts explaining excel to you using their soft tones and their gentle mouse clicks and finger points while you drool onto the keyboard. The best 😛

    • At work, it makes me twitchy! It’s very hard to follow what people are saying when I’m so distracted.

      That makes me wonder what happens when two ASMR-having people shack up. Do they just spend all day putting each other in trances?

  3. I’m not laughing at you, I’m not really laughing with you. I guess I’m laughing near you. I’m actually laughing with joy by proxy, because that just sounds wonderful. I think I may have the opposite thing, though, as random things just make me feel awful and cry. I don’t suppose you want to work out some sort of swap schedule? If you could rent that out, you could retire on your own private island.

    • I thought I heard something – oh, it’s just you, laughing in the corner. 🙂

      I’m glad to pass on some joy by proxy, but what your comment makes me want to do is find you better random things! Dunno if we can swap (although the private island would work quite well for me) – but can I recommend a therapy treatment of puppies, good tacos, and blanket forts?

      I feel like those things exist in a completely awful-free zone. And honestly, an adult building blanket forts would still be less weird than an adult letting strangers whisper in her ear about witches.

  4. Ok this is completely fascinating to me!! I definitely don’t have it, but I love learning about new things like this. I have a thing where when someone rus my arm, head, or leg my whole body gets chills and I basically go comatose and can’t talk or keep my eyes open. But tht is the only weird trigger thing I have. I think it’s so cool that you get to experience such happy, safe, tingly feelings from random auditory triggers. I can’t wait to read more about this. Do you know how common it is? Do you know why it happens?

    • Oh, you’re so sweet. I also like living vicariously through other people’s fascinating obsessions! Is your “comatose” trigger nice or unpleasant? I can’t tell – maybe nice if it happens when you want to relax, but strange if it happens unexpectedly? Then again, how many people unexpectedly run their hand over your leg? 🙂

      And I wish I could tell you more about ASMR, but there aren’t many hard facts out there. It’s so subjective that it’s apparently very tricky to study. It only got its name and started attracting attention a few years ago, when a thread on Reddit about an “unnamed feeling” gathered traction and a large number of people realized they had this thing in common. But so many people don’t yet realize that they experience it, or that it has a name, that it would be hard to know what % of the population experiences it. The “whisper videos” on YouTube have hundreds of thousands of followers, though.

      As for why it happens, the best theory I’ve seen so far (on Wikipedia) chalks it up to, “Neurodiversity and how the complexity of the human brain is due to developmental behaviors across the evolutionary time scale.” This scientist also talks about how, in some primate species, the animals will enter into an almost euphoric state while being groomed. So maybe humans with the strongest responses to physical grooming developed the ability to appreciate even a non-physical re-creation of that kind of caring attention? I still don’t know how that would account for the ASMR reaction to certain sounds, but it would explain the roleplay videos.

  5. I just learned about ASMR a few weeks ago from the TAL episode that Laura referenced. The videos don’t do anything ‘special’ for me, but I do find quiet tones soothing/relaxing. (Perhaps because the world is generally so dang noisy…) I *adored* the calligraphy video – so beautiful! And the scratching sound on the paper was cool. And the person made it look so easy! (Which I know it ain’t.) 🙂

    Thank you for once again demonstrating tremendous courage, and bringing to light things that are usually underground. I’m in awe of your incredible spirit.

    • I feel exactly the same way about you. Throw in the intrigue of never being able to tell when you’re writing from life versus fiction, and I’m hooked.

      I WISH I KNEW HOW TO QUIT YOU!

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