GentleWhispering and MaleSoothe are two of the most popular members of a growing community – called ASMR (or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response).
Science is yet to prove that ASMR works. But devotees claim they get ‘tingles’ or even ‘brain orgasms’ from watching these videos of prolonged whispering, tapping, scratching and other sounds – or even a customer service role-play.
A single video from any one of YouTube’s most prominent ‘ASMRtists’ can generate hundreds of thousands of views in a matter of days.
Although only a small percentage of people seem able to experience the fabled ‘brain tingles’ to which the acronym refers, ASMR videos are being used more and more as a sleep aid, as a relaxation tool, and as a way of combating anxiety disorders and depression.
The skeptics still have some questions though – many of which are about sex.
Although ASMR is generally considered to be all about relaxation, as opposed to eroticism, questions of sexuality still seem to crop up at every turn: If it’s not a sexual thing, then how come the most popular videos always seem to have pretty women in them? Why do gay men seem to respond more to handsome guys? And if a man creates ASMR videos, then he must be gay, right?
GSN had a chat with two of YouTube’s most popular ASMRtists, to answer these questions once and for all.
The single most popular YouTube channel for ASMR videos is GentleWhispering. This is the online pseudonym of Maria, a genial Russian-American blonde whose list of subscribers tops 70,000. GSN asked Maria about her thoughts on the ASMR community’s apparent predilection for attractive women and whether it indicates a sexual component to their videos’ consumption.
‘I would say that they [popular female whisperers] are not just pretty, they are charming,’ Maria told us, ‘and that’s a bit of a different thing. When a woman is charming in a video, it’s really pleasant just to watch her because she is always smiling and upbeat and cheerful.’
Maria is friendly, talkative and effortlessly likeable. It’s easy to see why so many people like to fall asleep with her gentle voice dancing around between their ears. She accepts though, that being physically attractive can be an advantage.
‘I can’t say that we are all models here,’ she says with a coy laugh, ‘we’re just everyday people. Obviously online being cute is very popular, because more people will click on the video with the pretty face on it. But at the same time, don’t be mistaking [sic] that they all have so many subscribers just because of their face. It’s really about the charm, how much effort they put into their videos, their attitude and their voice.’
For a male perspective we spoke to Andrew, who goes by the YouTube name MaleSoothe. He has just over 6,000 subscribers which, although some way short of Maria’s legion of fans, makes him one of the most popular male whisperers.
He says: ‘I think that the main reason why attractive people are the most popular is the same reason why attractive people are the most popular on any sort of YouTube community. But I know for a fact that there have been some successful ASMRtists that never show their face, especially more so in the past.
‘When this first started, it was people just whispering and it was a very small thing. There were people that weren’t especially attractive but that I would listen to quite often – I use myself as an example because I am someone who definitely has the experience and it’s not a sexual thing for me. I would say it has as much to do with sexuality as every other video on YouTube has to do with sexuality.’
Andrew is a handsome, articulate 20-something from ‘the Western half’ of the United States (ASMRtists tend to withhold their surnames and exact locations), with an educational and professional background in psychology. As a male whisperer though, his most common question is not about psychology, but sexuality.
‘The number one question I get,’ says Andrew, ‘is “are you gay?”, and I don’t have any plans on ever answering that. I don’t think it really matters.
‘Ultimately, people can think whatever they like and if it happens to be for someone that seeing me as a particular sexual orientation helps them to relax then I think that’s a great thing. I like people to believe whatever they want.’
Maria, whose boyfriend also happens to be an ASMRtist, sees it as more of a question of masculinity than of sexuality.
‘I think it has to do with your sensitive side as a male – when you’re being sensitive and caring, not all manly and masculine. You have to show your feminine side in the video because that’s what it’s made for. You have to make it soft for people to use it as a sleep aid. They [male whisperers] are just more in touch with their feminine side, which is a great thing.’
Andrew agrees, and feels the questions of sexuality are a natural consequence of some fairly deep-rooted social perceptions of masculinity.
‘I think the reason it [the question of sexuality] is thrown so regularly at male whisperers is that, through gender stereotypes, men are expected to be insensitive and emotionless,’ he says. ‘Due to our society’s viewpoints on sexuality, we assume gay people are the only men who can be sensitive.’
Andrew has found though, with an apt sense of irony, that this blossoming community has a social stigma all of its own.
‘I basically had to “come out” to my family as an ASMRtist, which is pretty funny. I have to say I was a bit uncomfortable even telling friends about this, to begin with. Simply because, to a lot of people it’s a very strange thing.’
Strange or not, a quick browse around YouTube will show you there is a huge amount of love in this little community. Both Maria’s and Andrew’s inboxes are regularly flooded with appreciative messages from listeners. And from speaking with them about it, it’s clear that the affection is a two-way thing.
‘Every time I read a new message, it makes me feel very humble,’ says Maria. ‘It’s really sweet and it touches me.
‘I have people just pouring their hearts out to me. I get amazing messages even from pilots, lawyers and fire-fighters, saying “thank you so much for helping me” and it’s really incredible. It’s hard to say thank you back to everybody but it feels like you are truly loved by a lot of people.’
Watch videos by Maria and Andrew here: