Culture

The Disturbing Link Between ASMR And Porn

By Elizabeth Condra··  6 min read
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If you’re a fan of YouTube, relaxation, or even guided meditation, you might have stumbled upon ASMR in the past year. Some people are weirded out by it, which is perfectly understandable. Others can’t relax or get to sleep without it.

The genre, which has taken over the internet, boasts millions of whisper or gentle speaking videos, sometimes with props or costumes, and is meant to give a relaxing or calming effect to the viewer. Not all ASMR content is created equal, though. And believe it or not, a noticeable connection between ASMR, once the guilt-free if a bit strange pastime for millions of people, is now beginning to be associated with pornography. 

What’s more, ASMR creators — predominantly women — are discovering a pipeline from making ASMR content to creating pornographic content or starting OnlyFans accounts.

So, is ASMR porn? Was it always pornographic to begin with, or are a handful of creators beginning to exploit a genre we’re fascinated with but know very little about?

What the Heck Is ASMR?

For those who don’t know, ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response. ASMR is most commonly described as a feeling of euphoria or chills/tingles felt through the scalp and sometimes down through the spine, which are elicited through audio or visual content (or both).

ASMR is a feeling of euphoria or chills/tingles felt through the scalp and spine elicited through audio or visual content.

Scientists and researchers are always quick to note that ASMR is a relatively new phenomenon, one which we still don’t know a whole lot about. As many ASMR creators (or ASMRtists, as they’re known) describe it, you really don’t know what ASMR is until you experience it. There’s even some evidence to suggest differences in brain response patterns in individuals who experience ASMR compared to those who don’t, just as some people may get chills or goosebumps listening to music, for example.

These reactions are a response to content commonly referred to as triggers. Many ASMRtists relate that their first experiences with it came from having their hair brushed by a loved one, or listening to the sound of pencils in a classroom. 

Nowadays, the genre is used by many to relax or even to fall asleep. One study found that ASMR videos were used by 82% of the people surveyed to fall asleep. ASMR in relation to how it helps stress and frustration, as well as insomnia, is still being investigated.

A New (Pornographic) Trend Is Emerging

A common criticism is that ASMR is inherently sexual or pornographic, though many ASMRtists reject this. Julia, known as @itsblitzzz on YouTube (with over 700,000 subscribers), is popular within the genre and known for her minimalist aesthetic and simple ASMR videos, featuring her spraying essential oils or brushing through her friends’ hair. She describes ASMR as a form of closeness or intimacy, but one that isn’t sexual, a description which many other well-known creators agree with. 

Others would outright disagree. A self-described sex researcher argues that while ASMR isn’t always a “sex thing,” it can be for many, seeing as how both sexuality and the eroticism sometimes found in ASMR produce the same feel-good hormones, like serotonin and oxytocin

Jessica Roy for The Cut illustrates the divisiveness within the ASMR community: “Is ASMR totally nonsexual and more about relaxation than stimulation (as the majority of devotees argue), or is it kiiiind of basically soft-core porn?”

ASMR is now the obvious gateway for both producers of porn and for its viewers. 

Therein lies the question, but for many ASMRtists, they aren’t even dwelling on the debate. The ASMR genre as a whole has generated an entire niche for itself online, as well as millions of videos, and self-described creators and fans which are too many to count. And now, some of those creators have found that toeing the line between sexual vs. non-sexual content is where the real profit lies.

A YouTuber with thousands of subscribers can make a pretty good living for themselves these days, and ASMR has now found its own foothold in that market. One such YouTuber, Canadian Gwen Swinarton, has half a million subscribers. Known for her intimate roleplay, dress-up haul, and travel videos, Gwen has made a name for herself in the less-than-reputable category of ASMRtists through featuring lingerie or more erotic content.

On her separate channel, in an hour long video, she revealed that she’d recently grown her following through making an OnlyFans, after being propositioned (and more) by countless fans on her own ASMR channel. Swinarton disclosed to Refinery29 last year that she makes $70,000 a month or more from OnlyFans.

She’s not alone. It’s now becoming more and more common to see female ASMRtists plugging their “not safe for work” ASMR content alongside their everyday, acceptable-for-YouTube content.

Exploiting the Genre for Money?

Say what you will about the popularity of overt sexuality as “liberation” or the cultural phenomenon of feeling like we have to expose ourselves in order to feel seen or empowered. The fact is, for many, ASMR is now the obvious gateway for both producers of porn and for its viewers. 

It’s probably safe to say that, in its infancy, this perhaps wasn’t the intention of the genre’s most ardent supporters. But over the years, having risen to the level of notoriety that it has, subversive elements within the community have taken the gray areas prevalent within the genre and appropriated them for their own profit.

Anyone touting the supposed benefits of porn probably isn’t doing so in good faith.

By now, most of us can easily recognize that anyone touting the supposed benefits of porn probably isn’t doing so in good faith. The high cost to one’s personal life in maintaining healthy romantic and sexual relationships is well documented, as is the unapologetic sexualization of individuals and topics we now encounter every single day. 

I’m sure there are ASMR devotees out there whose interest in the genre is purely in relaxation, stress management, and sleep benefit, who are disappointed with the direction the genre’s most popular advocates are taking. But for now, those voices are drowned out by the content creators with the highest subscriber count and the most money.

Closing Thoughts

If you’re not an avid ASMR viewer and you’re concerned its content might not entirely be PG, your concerns are warranted. While there are still thousands of creators out there who will probably stick to strictly ASMR content going forward, young women especially are finding out how easy it is to go from one genre to a more serious, questionable type of content. While the promises of sexual empowerment and financial freedom seem alluring, we know that there are better ways of achieving those goals without paying the price of having the most intimate parts of ourselves forever on the internet.

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