Why are these fully dressed women who mostly whis­per en­cour­ag­ing acts of self-care be­ing treated as sex traf­fick­ers?

Financial Mail - - ASMR - Sylvia Mckeown

A fully clothed blonde woman whis­pers into her cam­era while strum­ming her man­i­cured fin­gers across a soft-bris­tle make-up brush. “I’m just ex­am­in­ing. Just pay­ing at­ten­tion … mak­ing sure that you’re in good health,” she purrs, as she strokes the cam­era lens with the brush.

It’s not sex­ual in any way, but it feels per­sonal and is oddly sooth­ing.

This is Maria “Gen­tle Whis­per­ing”, a Youtube “Asm­rtist” with 1.4-mil­lion sub­scribers and more than half-a-bil­lion views since she started in 2011.

The acro­nym stands for au­tonomous sen­sory merid­ian re­sponse, a phys­i­cal re­ac­tion ex­pe­ri­enced by some peo­ple when they are ex­posed to the right vis­ual and au­di­tory stim­uli.

Ac­cord­ing to a study by psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor Stephen Smith of the Univer­sity of Win­nipeg, ASMR is prob­a­bly the first psy­cho­log­i­cal phe­nom­e­non that was dis­cov­ered by in­ter­net users rather than by sci­en­tists. The study found that peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­ence ASMR re­ac­tions have neu­ral net­works that are fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent to those of other peo­ple.

So ASMR view­ers feel warm and fuzzy when they watch Youtube videos in which peo­ple do things like whis­per­ing and tap­ping or strum­ming a comb. “Many users de­scribe it as a ‘head or­gasm’,” says re­porter Scaachi Koul in the Fol­low This Net­flix doc­u­men­tary episode about the phe­nom­e­non. For Koul, ASMR cre­ates a tin­gle in her spine and brain. She says it pro­vides a calm­ing respite from her busy life and hec­tic job.

For me the tin­gling sen­sa­tion mostly runs gen­tly down my neck into the ten­sion in my shoul­ders, forc­ing me to re­lax in ways that nor­mally would cost a lot of money at a fancy spa. Iron­i­cally, my favourite sen­sory ther­apy is cour­tesy of the In­sta­gram user An­drea @therose­queenn, who slowly, beau­ti­fully, cuts up a suc­ces­sion of Lush beauty and spa prod­ucts.

And I’m not the only one who feels this way; in June, the Univer­sity of Sh­effield’s depart­ment of psy­chol­ogy found ASMR may have ben­e­fits for both phys­i­cal and men­tal health. The study sug­gests that those who ex­pe­ri­ence ASMR show sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tions in heart­beat rates as well as lower lev­els of stress and anx­i­ety.

“I don’t think it’s a new thing that peo­ple want to feel bet­ter,” says Koul. “Or that peo­ple want to feel com­fort, we al­ways want that. But there is some­thing that’s hap­pen­ing in the past, prob­a­bly three years, where it has re­ally ex­ploded in a big­ger way.”

“Ex­ploded” may be an un­der­state­ment; 570 ASMR videos are posted ev­ery hour. In the past year 11-mil­lion videos have been tagged #ASMR. The big­gest num­ber of view­ers is in South Ko­rea, al­most twice as many as in sec­on­dranked Canada. The US, Aus­tralia and New Zealand also have sub­stan­tial view­er­ships.

But in June China banned and deleted videos of sound ef­fects as part of its ef­forts to block on­line porn. And in the US, in­ter­net com­pa­nies are be­ing more vig­i­lant about con­tent fol­low­ing the adop­tion in March of the Stop En­abling Sex Traf­fick­ers Act and the Al­low States & Vic­tims to Fight On­line Sex Traf­fick­ing Act.

In the past two weeks Pay­pal has started ban­ning con­tent cre­ators that vi­o­late its sex­ual con­tent pol­icy from us­ing its ser­vices, and is freez­ing their as­sets for six months. Even Youtube started tak­ing steps in June to de­mon­e­tise the ASMR genre, deem­ing the videos “not ad­ver­tiser-friendly”.

“This poses the ques­tion, does Youtube it­self mis­judge ASMR con­tent as sex­ual?” Bri­tish ASMR-

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