ASMR Love: the 21st Century Romance in Remote Control

Owen Riley, 17, at his ASMR recording studio. Source: The New York Times.

In the 1500s, Romeo was compelled to climb tall balconies to profess his love for Juliet, Niulang crossed an entire river for his beloved Zhinu, while Majnun obsessively persisted to woo his Laila. Perhaps love in the 70s and 80s was subsequently simplified to shy love letters, hushed landline conversations over trunk calls at a phone booth, or a bold confession song on the radio. Yet, nothing compares to the platter of options available at the swipe of a finger through the virtually interactive interface offered by dating apps today. But apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Grindr still require us to go through the emotional grind of meeting someone, opening up about ourselves, expecting some reciprocity, fear of disappointment, and a monotonous repetition of the same mundane spiral in the hopes of finally meeting ‘The One’! 

Our fast-paced 24 hour one-touch delivery form of lifestyle has left us wanting for a quick fix to this love game as well! What if we could avail the pleasures of love, companionship, and emotional support without its laborious and demanding process of commitment? The answer to this thought-provoking question has been technology’s boon (or bane?) in gifting the world with ASMR love! 

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, widely referred to as ASMR has been the hot-topic sub-culture since 2009, creating a storm globally over the past decade. It pertains to the tingly, euphoric feeling experienced by people when exposed to stimuli in a specific format. ASMR also has varied genres catering to diverse psychological needs: tapping and makeup ASMRs cater to senses of form related satisfaction, mukbang ASMRs satisfying food cravings vicariously, whispering ASMRs catering to calming the nerves and so on. This article will only focus on how ASMR is utilised to cater to our emotional need for a partner, without having to meet someone in physical reality or proximity.

Source: GirlStyle.com

Know your ASMR Boyfriend or Girlfriend!

You are lying down in the comforts of your bed, the linen and blankets fell just right on your skin and you absentmindedly shuffle through YouTube to stumble upon a video titled, “ASMR Boyfriend comforts and puts you to sleep” …Curiosity, hesitance, intrigue, and mix of other emotions somehow propel you to tap the play button. And Lo! You are not prepared for the roller coaster of feelings that follow through. 

Your noise-cancelling headphones amplify the breathing sounds of the speaker in the ASMR audio, almost as if he or she is just a hair’s breadth away… You hear whispers of very selective words and phrases, “Baby, I know it’s been a hard day, let my ruffle your hair… Here, come closer…” It is accompanied by realistic, soft hair-ruffling sounds that unravel a world of imagination for you… “I love the warmth of your skin against mine…. hmmm…I wish we could lie like this forever by your side…” The soft chuckles, the sighs, and heaving breaths are too overwhelmingly realistic. It is almost as if you finally found someone for yourself. 

That butterfly feeling in the belly is what most ASMR boyfriend/ girlfriend content creators aspire to produce for their audience. The nature of content within this genre can also vary from fluff-based puppy love kind of romance to sexual content catering to the niche needs of their audience. 

Prior to ASMR, the pop-culture trended around fanfictions wherein writers unleashed their creative web in depicting diverse fictional scenarios of movie characters and celebrities in unique short story plots.  Some of them revolved around the reader’s point of view as well, such that the reader is a part of the plot interacting and experiencing events of the story. However, fanfictions being a plain visual medium of words across a white background, has its limitations in tapping the senses of its readers. Thus, ASMR potentially amplifies this creativity to the next level by incorporating technology to produce pleasure evoking or calming patterns of sounds. 

Owen Dennis Riley, 17, is one such YouTube sensation playing an ASMR boyfriend (Channel: DennisASMR) to half a million subscribers. His audience enjoy his audio content wherein he brings gifts on Valentine’s Day, serenades a beautiful love song, gives you soup when you are sick, and tucks you to bed. He is every girl’s dream minus the emotional drama and adjustments of a reality love life.  Dr. Mars is another example, who is a Korean ASMR boyfriend (Channel: Dr. Mars) with half a million subscribers as well, known for more explicit and sexual content in his videos. His plotlines are more creative, rendered in a low masculine bass voice driving his female audience wild with imagination. Additionally, his technique of ASMR surprisingly evokes the tactile senses as well, wherein the sound of his breath is so well captured in the video that it creates a unique aura of warmth in the listeners’ ears. For the listener, it is almost as though the warmth of his breath graces the listener’s ears through these whispering conversations. 

Owen Riley, 17, at his ASMR recording studio. Source: The New York Times.

Afterglow ASMR is famous for playing ASMR girlfriend (Channel: AfterGlow ASMR) with anime styled video backdrops. Her voice is husky and seductive which creates a soothing effect for her listeners. Her storylines also pertain to fluffy romances. Unlike Dr. Mars, she focuses more on the conversation plotline with her listeners rather than incorporating too much background noise relevant to the plot setting.

Why do People Resort to ASMR Love? 

The patterns of ASMR content are well received by its audience globally as they have found some relief and comfort in dealing with melancholy, chronic depression, and loneliness. Some of the ASMR videos have also had a calming effect on people suffering through sudden panic or anxiety attacks, vicious spirals of negative thinking, and so on. ASMR actors play the role of empathetic support and provide reinforcement and validation to the listener’s feelings, thoughts, and action. 

Often in life, we do seek to hear words of encouragement, praise, comfort, and hope from others in order to recoup and reignite the spark of hustling for our goals, dreams, and vision. Sometimes, expecting this out of a human being like a partner, lover, or friend may not be as fruitful as we imagine them to be, simply because they do not possess the finesse and skills to articulate those feelings in the manner that we would like them. Additionally, as humans they are prone to the errors of overlooking how we feel, misunderstanding or mis-speaking which could further deteriorate our moods and lead to disappointment. On the other hand, ASMR actors consciously pick and choose each phrase and dialogue, practise them over time, and incorporate niche skills in delivering these content in this optimal manner, thereby working its magic on the listeners!

A crucial reason why people prefer to choose ASMR love over a real relationship is because a relationship just like any other aspect of life requires one to invest copious amounts of time, emotions, commitment, trust, hope and care for the wellbeing of another individual beyond that of our own self-interest. However, just as a gardener waters and cares for his plants without knowledge of whether they will live to bear fruits or wither away, the unsurety of love could be extremely stressful and depressing. The disappointment of a heartbreak after having given all their time and efforts into the relationship could feel synonymous to a miscarriage of emotions leaving one delusional and bitter.  

Eminent researchers have been closely studying the ASMR phenomenon. Through conducting semiotic video analyses, one such study explores how the ASMRtists attempt to produce intimacy via the girlfriend roleplay ASMR videos. The result landed in that the ASMRtists attempt to produce intimacy in various creative ways that override the screen. It was speculated that the ASMRtists attempt to generate both an emotional and physical connection to the viewer through combining elements from real-life relationships and different ASMR triggers. Through making use of theories of dramaturgy, the male gaze and gender displays, the study has analysed the material and uncovered norms and structures in society that the ASMRtists arguably rely on. The number of people that consume these videos shows that there is a demand for new ways of creating intimacy. The development of digitalization will most likely continue to open up new forms of digital intimacy which makes it an exciting topic to conduct further research on.

The Flip Side ? 

There also lies a fear that overwhelming dependence on vicarious stimuli for love could result in the genesis of a drastically untact society. People may lose the essence of human contact, the benefits of interpersonal connection, and lurk in their shadows of solitude forever. Subject matter experts in the field of social psychology opine that exposure to the entire cycle of courtship, dating, heartbreak, and rebouncing back enables a person to undergo the changes necessary in the path of self-development. Any hacks or replacements retracting from this basic requirement would construe to be a form of avoidance rather than a healthy solution oriented attitude. Additionally, the short sightedness of the listeners, fails to come to terms with the fact that the aura of ASMR is only temporary until the end of the audio or video clip. The moment the audio comes to a standstill, the magic dissolves into a realm of hopeless reality.  

A new spectrum of sexuality, known as ‘fictosexuality’ has been gaining attention in the recent years, wherein people’s sexual preference or attraction is directed towards fictional or virtual elements like anime dolls, holograms, and more. The term gained global popularity when Akihiko Kondo, a Japanese male, married a made-up doll of renowned pop singer Hatsune Miku back in 2018 and now identifies as a fictosexual. According to a paper published on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website, fictosexuals are part of the LGBTQIA+ community, with some saying they also identify as asexual because they would never pursue sex with a real person. Many fictosexuals identify under one of several subcategories. Cartosexuals, for instance, are only attracted to cartoon or comic book characters and so on. 

Akihiko Kondo with this doll. Source: The New York Times

Conclusion

The genesis of societal norms stem from trend-setting crowd behaviour. This is essentially due to people’s subconscious need to conform for external validation, approval, and respect. What appears to be an aberration today could form one of the fundamental customs, or traditions of the society we live in tomorrow. This article is not a moral code or a sermon to direct, guide, or influence preferences. It is merely an exposé of possibilities of how institutions pertaining to love, marriage, and beyond could transform in alignment to our changing needs. What we can learn from this is that life presents us with numerous choices and equivalent consequences. As long as our choices are healthy, safe, and  in consensus with our personal interests and of the collective wellbeing of society at large, we could explore them optimistically. 

Shweta Ravi
About Shweta Ravi 7 Articles
Shweta hails from Mumbai, India and is pursuing her Masters in International Trade Finance and Management at Yonsei GSIS. Her prior background in Psychology coupled with vast travel experiences and interest in languages, intrigue her to explore the dynamics of human interaction in diverse socio-economic canvas. Shweta has also worked as a professional Language Interpreter in Mandarin (Chinese) & Korean for both the Indian-Korean Government and for several Global Corporates. She enjoys immersing herself in art, music, theatre, feature films and gourmet cuisine among other interests.