The Internet Gives Me ‘Brain Orgasms’ and Maybe You Can Get Them Too

An online community has blossomed around a phenomenon called Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response that gives a subset of people a euphoric feeling in their brains that science has yet to explain.

  • Share
  • Read Later

I am sitting in bed with my feet curled under me on a dark fall evening before the first snow. My hair is tucked beneath noise-canceling headphones that are playing the sound of a woman gently blowing into my ears. She is whispering, intimately exhaling breath on one side before moving to the other, back and forth. A shiver starts at the crown of my head and tiptoes like an electric shock down the knobs of my spine. I have to take the headphones off. The feeling, while pleasant, is simply too much.

I am having an Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), a strange, tingly sensation, known in some corners of the Internet as a brain orgasm. Whispering is a primary trigger, but anything from the sound a pen makes when drawing on a piece of paper to rhythmic, monotonous speech can spark an episode. And it’s not just about sounds. Having someone focus specifically on you–such as when an optometrist performs an eye exam or when your hairdresser cuts your bangs–can also invoke the same feeling; the sensation of someone gently tracing lines on your back or stroking your hair can incite that familiar fizzle.

People experience ASMR in different ways, which makes describing it especially difficult. For me, whispering, one-on-one attention or someone lightly grazing my hair, neck or back provokes a physical reaction that is almost violent in its quest for pleasure. For others, the feeling is less distinct: some may be simply lulled into a comfortable state of relaxation without experiencing any physical reaction at all.

Hundreds of people create ASMR videos and upload them to YouTube for the purpose of helping people relax. The community, which originated on YouTube with one popular video of a woman whispering, has grown tremendously since its inception in 2009, and now boasts almost 2 million videos. The Reddit forum dedicated to ASMR has over 55,000 subscribers and the Facebook page has almost 11,000 likes. A simple search for “ASMR” on YouTube yields thousands of thumbnails of primarily young, attractive women dragging makeup brushes across their hands or pursing their lips and blowing into the camera.

The term ASMR was coined by Jenn Allen, a 30-year-old New Yorker who works in Healthcare IT. She started the ASMR Research Institute, an unofficial organization that relies on volunteers to help analyze the neuroscience and psychology behind why the phenomenon exists.

Karissa Ann Burgess, who’s currently studying in a clinical psychology PhD program, is in charge of experimental research and data for the organization, but said that the group has yet to begin significant work in finding answers. Still, they’ve floated some theories: “Dopamine could be involved, serotonin–the feel-good hormones,” Burgess told TIME by phone. “There’s also some interesting theories that it might be a sort of bonding phenomenon and triggers the release of oxytocin, which is the bonding hormone.”

Scientists haven’t yet provided many answers about ASMR and the phenomenon hasn’t really been subject to any sort of rigorous study, meaning that the how and why surrounding it go largely unanswered.

Steven Novella, a prominent neuroscientist and assistant professor at the Yale University School of Medicine, wrote briefly on the topic of ASMRs on his blog, The Ness. He believes that, despite the dearth of medical research, ASMRs are most likely real, and the neurological causes behind them could range from mini seizures to hardwired evolutionary reactions.

“Perhaps ASMR is a type of seizure. Seizures can sometime be pleasurable, and can be triggered by these sorts of things,” Novella writes on his blog. “Or, ASMR could just be a way of activating the pleasure response. Vertebrate brains are fundamentally hardwired for pleasure and pain – for positive and negative behavioral feedback.”

The videos posted online intended to activate that pleasure response are strange and sometimes borderline creepy, enough so that when I first found out about them I did not really want to be one of those people who reacts to them, whose spine fizzles in response to a stranger pretending to give me a makeover or brush my hair. But it is, like the name suggests, autonomous–something that happens without my control.

The acts required to trigger an ASMR are admittedly intimate. The sensation is compared to an orgasm because it can feel similar, just centered at the top of the body instead of the bottom, so you’d be forgiven for confusing ASMRs for something sexual. But perhaps that’s another reason they are so difficult to decipher, especially if you don’t experience them yourself: ASMRs are intimate but not sexual, feel-good but not orgasmic, private but not secret.

“The less intense state that a lot of people get into is sort of a buzzing in the head. It literally feels like their brain is being pushed down, so it’s getting heavy and at the same time buzzing is happening in the back of your head,” said Maria, who runs a popular YouTube account called Gentle Whispering where she posts videos of herself performing a series of ASMR triggers, such as whispering and role playing characters like doctors and teachers meant to guide watchers into the euphoric state of ASMR.

The active community that has formed around the phenomenon largely consists of video creators who themselves experience ASMR and want to help contribute content to the canon to help other people reach the same relaxed state.

“Yes, ASMR is this relaxing feeling, but it’s way more than that,” said Ilse, a young Dutch woman whose website, The Water Whispers, and YouTube channel generate some of the most popular ASMR content on the web. “The community is such a loving and humble community because it’s about taking something by watching video and, because you’re grateful, you give something back. That’s why I think the community is one of the most unique ones in the entire world that you’re going to find.”

Because the videos tend to be recorded by young attractive women, and because YouTube is not a particularly welcoming place for women in general, the comments beneath the videos are their own sort of story, with all the drama and tension and hurtfulness inherent to any online community.

And it’s not just creepy comments that can pile up under the videos–many of which, for better or worse, also attract white knights to defend the honor of the YouTuber in question. One of ASMR’s most popular and prolific users, who went by the screenname CuteBunny992, was driven off the platform last year after a hacker gained access to her account and tried to paint her as a slut and pedophile by deleting all of her uploads and publishing inappropriate videos. Though she was widely loved within the ASMR community, she hasn’t been back since.

But the growth in ASMR seekers hasn’t been stopped by events like that.

“For me it’s just a very calming state of mind, and sometimes it feels like the top of my head is tingling,” said Amber Gordon, an employee at Tumblr in New York City who watches ASMR videos every night before falling asleep. “In a way, it’s kind of addictive.”

23 comments
ASMRconventions
ASMRconventions

Hi ASMR fans,

 
How would you guys like to meet some of the ASMRtists in-person? Wouldn’t it be rad to see a live ASMR session happen?
 
Please check out and like on Facebook “ASMR Conventions”. There is more info on that page. I already have some ASMRtists that are already on-board with the idea of having a convention.
 
“If you build it, they will come”.

BoredBoredBored
BoredBoredBored

There's always people who will be terribly aggressive towards anything that hints at gentleness.  It's a very disturbing phenomenon in the human species and a strong effect of breeding capitalism in the way we do where savagery is promoted and gentleness despised.

There's many great male ASMR people and some of the best female ASMR people are pretty homely looking.  As a male, if I find her too attractive, it kind of spoils the ASMR because I feel like it's someone I would have to feel completely comfortable around in real life.

One of the key reasons women would do videos more often is simply because women are going to, generally, be more into something as sensory as it is.

There's great male guys out there too - so don't characterize it as a beauty contest... it's not.

Ephemeral Rift is great at it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SQlnOBZB38

As is some guy who refers to himself as "Dimitri:" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHSnkJeGxIU

Deadpooln
Deadpooln

I started experiencing this in the past couple of weeks. However I seem to get random memory triggers that make me feel it and I react by trying to hold onto that feeling. It's very strange but sort of makes me feel connected to the/my future...if that makes any sense.  It's a feeling that everything is going to be ok sort of. It is just such a difficult feeling to explain and I also get it watching tv, reading, or any form of entertainment or if I'm very focused. Especially when I take a scene and read into it, see myself in their place or making decisions or watching from multiple angles. Yet at the same time beyond that. 


It doesn't just happen with memories either, sometimes it gives me strange ..I guess you can call them "visions", moving images of something I never even thought of before. 

Like the other day I just had an image of me in a long, wide hallway in a large building with a large window to the right taking up most of the large wall with one of the most beautiful views I've ever seen of large trees, and then saw it from third person maybe 50 yards to my left watching myself. For some reason it didn't feel like it was present either, it felt like it was taking place in the future. I remember an image of someone down the hall as well. Like a dream just happened in a split second while I was awake.

It was one of the weirdest feelings I have had before. Sounds strange even as I'm typing it. I'm not really comfortable telling anyone about the feeling but my brother because I don't think anyone is really going to believe me anyways.


It was so strong the first week, it would last longer. Now it sort of comes and goes more often but much more subtle and harder to hold onto. I just have the feeling of wanting it to stay, as if it comforts me. 

I don't know. I am probably going to start meditating more often and treat my body right in terms of what I put into it. Maybe then I can come to understand it a little bit more. I'm just glad I'm not the only one experiencing this. 

mediauwant
mediauwant

ASMR has been a very welcome distraction for me since my sweet wife passed away in April. So, I thank you all. In my ongoing attempt to find my way in this new life that has been forced on me, I decided to give making my own ASMR videos a try. Hope you enjoy it. I will be making more, so hope to see you subscribe to my channel.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC59ZObRAYGmbjUQudFZQXsA

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

IN CAPS FOR THE ELDERLY....DEFEND THE WEAK AGAINST YRANTS.....KNIGHT TEMPLARS

LIKE JOHN LENNON SAID.........
"COME TOGETHER .........RIGHT NOW......OVER ......THE INTERNET????????!!!!!!!"

VALENTINE, COMMEDIAN....LOL

JuniorHansenJr.
JuniorHansenJr.

Great to hear this has a clinical name, I've been calling mine 'effervescence', a very satisfying, somewhat thrilling whole body tingling shiver triggered by a great idea or clever realization that seemingly comes to me out of thin air. The revelations stand up after the effervescing has passed and brings on a knowing smile… like my busy brain separating the wheat from the chaff and signaling "This thought is a winner"

bretke
bretke

I don't know if this is the same thing, but I've been doing this for two decades, but as a way to cool off. Like if you are in a hot car with no AC, I "activate" (for lack of a better word) a shiver that rolls from the back of my head down throughout my torso, and up into my head, with a "shudder" feeling in my spine between the shoulder blades. Arm hair stands on end and everything, just like a cold induced shiver. 

To think about it in context of ASMR's, it does feel rather euphoric/calming. But while I can "activate" (1-3s) and experience (1-8s) this almost continuously (not bragging, I just learned/practiced to do it to sweat a lot less on the drive to work), it's never been addictive. In fact, I seldom think about it, unless I'm uncomfortably hot, or randomly shiver. 

I'd call it a shiver orgasm way before a brain orgasm, but I think Manual Shiver is more accurate. (compared to the automatic shiver you might get in a cool breeze, or a feather tickle, or "someone just walked over my grave".

MattiaCeruti
MattiaCeruti

Is anyone able to do it at will, without any sound help?

MoJokuku
MoJokuku

Listening to this stuff just made me feel stupid...... for wasting my time.    Guess my "brain orgasm" center is broke.

TimeTraveler28
TimeTraveler28

Hate to break he news to all of you, but ALL orgasms occur in the brain. 

JasonCorazon
JasonCorazon

LOL Not sure if that gave me an ASMR "brain orgasm", but the cute girl whispering to me was dope : )

drewallstar
drewallstar

Gaaah!!! The video took so long to load I forgot the tab was open.... the whispering freaked me right out :(

AndrewHeisler
AndrewHeisler

I cant belive this happens to me all the time. I never knew it had a name. The only weried thing is the things that trigger it

Things that trigger it for me are nostalgic in a way i cant really explain it. For example i was looking at some pipe things at tracker suplie and there was only one left. This make me have a asmr for a Seizure like epiose. also thinking about the past dsoe it to. Along wiht muisic from bands that have split up. 

N87B
N87B

Oh wow. I totally used to feel these as a kid. Especially when a woman would read, like in elementary school, I would get that sensation. Not sexual at all but definitely a very powerful feeling of delight. Weird I totally forgot about that.

JackLawrenceWilliams
JackLawrenceWilliams

I have literally never heard someone use ASMR as a plural before until now. Also, a lot of us really wish people would stop using "brain orgasm", because it reinforces the idea that ASMR is sexual. That said, it's definitely really nice to see it getting the attention it deserves (slowly but surely). I hope that continues.

ThomasMacDonald
ThomasMacDonald

Thanks for making this and bringing it to the light of day.

Concerned100
Concerned100

I can hardly wait to see how the children turn out.

brbwatermelon
brbwatermelon

@MattiaCeruti People who can trigger ASMR at will have what is called Type A ASMR. Type B ASMR requires external triggers, which is what the YouTube community is based on.

KaiSkykorsky
KaiSkykorsky

@N87B Very cool! I get this feeling from strangers, mainly, so I would relate easily to your teacher reading a story quietly. If a coworker sits down next to me and talks slowly and deliberately, maybe making soft palatal noises with their tongue, I start to get dizzy and tingly and really want to fall asleep. It's like settling into a warm bubble bath. It's not sexual at all. Men and women can trigger the effect for me. I saw a video on YouTube of an older grizzly man explaining about aspen and birch bark, and every time he'd say "birch bark", it was an ASMR trigger. So weird!

KaiSkykorsky
KaiSkykorsky

@JackLawrenceWilliams I agree, it's definitely not sexual—but the title is somewhat important to capture readers' attention. If that's what it takes to get the term "ASMR" out, so be it! :)