It’s easy to be harsh about a genre when looking from the outside. For one, people pretend that the pleasure generated from ASMR content is a new phenomenon, despite the fact that it’s been in existence – or rather, recorded – for almost a hundred years. Virginia Woolf writes in Mrs Dalloway – which was published in 1925 – how a nurse speaks to a patient “deeply, softly, like a mellow organ, but with a roughness in her voice like a grasshopper's, which rasped his spine deliciously and sent running up into his brain waves of sound”.
This isn’t the only thing people get wrong about ASMR content. Most misconceptions come from a basic lack of understanding, and to some extent, this is understandable. Though ASMR is nothing new, the content that has sprung up around it has only become popular recently. Media coverage tends to be sparse unless it’s reporting on an area of controversy, like potential risk to younger creators’ welfare. Paired with a lack of academic research, it’s easy to see why people struggle to properly get to grips with it.
The main misconception is that it's solely audio
The main misconception is that it’s solely audio. While whispering or microphone-tapping is what put ASMR content on the cultural map, several triggers of ASMR are physical. Nail painting, haircuts and back massages have all been found to stimulate the response thanks to the personal attention they provide. In fact, one of the few research papers on ASMR that does exist puts personal attention as the second most popular trigger, beaten only by whispering. For many, it’s enough to see videos of personal attention be acted out by a performer (some of whom prefer the far superior title of ‘ASMRtist’) who acts straight to camera, as if the viewer is the one receiving the attention.
People are seventeen times more likely to use ASMR content to fall asleep than to find sexual pleasure
Next on the list is that it’s exclusively sexual. While the examples used above help to dispel that myth, it’s worth exploring in more detail. Although a dedicated erotic faction does exist within the community, creating what its members call ‘ASMRotica’, creators insist that the genre has more to it than that. In fact, research from Swansea University suggests people are seventeen times more likely to use ASMR content to fall asleep than to find sexual pleasure. The research clearly hasn’t reached everyone: in 2018, China’s anti-pornography office banned all ASMR videos, citing a desire to “protect minors from harmful content”.
Finally, there exists the misconception that it’s almost entirely women who produce ASMR content. Though they certainly seem like the face of the brand, several content producers are men. Talking to the Courier, ASMR content producer PhocoenaASMR said that “the people that make ASMR are as diverse as the triggers. From Lovecraftian roleplays to whispered read-throughs of the Shrek script, trust me, there's some brilliantly creative people out there”.