What Is a Brain Orgasm?

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What Is a Brain Orgasm?

Brain Orgasm

A brain orgasm, or ASMR, which is technically called autonomous sensory meridian response, refers to a recently defined sensory experience some people have in response to specific stimuli.

Other terms for ASMR are "brain tingles" and "head orgasm." This sensation is described as a pleasant, even euphoric, tingling warmth and/or feeling of relaxation that comes in waves across the head, neck, and spine.

This phenomenon is often triggered by soothing auditory and/or visual experiences. A calming array of stimuli may induce the experience, such as videos of gentle whispering, close attention, or seemingly mundane things, tasks, or activities like brushing hair, getting an eye exam, eating, or filing papers.

Triggering sounds include chewing, tapping, scratching, crinkling, or electronic noises.

The brain orgasm sensation can be triggered in the real world but is often sought out intentionally online.

Since the phenomenon was first named in 2010, the concept of ASMR or brain orgasm has blown up on social media, with the world now seemingly separated into those that experience and seek out the sensation and those that do not.

ASMR and ASMR artists (or ASMRtists, as in those who create ASMR-inducing content) have become a full-fledged industry.

History

The term for this experience, autonomous sensory meridian response, is credited to Jennifer Allen, who coined it in 2010. She had spent years trying to find out more about this strange experience; however, for years her intermittent internet searches for more information got no hits.

Weird Sensation

That changed when she came across a 2007 post on the message board SteadyHealth about a "weird sensation that feels good," a description that sounded very similar to what she'd been feeling.

This initial forum drew people together who also experienced this phenomenon and led to the creation of a growing community, blogs and websites, and the sharing of experiences.

ASMR is the scientific sounding name Allen created to give more legitimacy to the sensation. She correctly surmised that "brain orgasm" and "head tingles" might not be taken as seriously.

Allen selected the components of the name "autonomous sensory meridian response" to effectively capture the internal, temporary, peak-like energy sensation she and a growing community of others had been occasionally feeling throughout their lives.

Allen then created a Facebook group called "ASMR Group" that attracted a big following, eventually attracting participants worldwide.

Once people had a name for this pleasurable phenomenon that many had been feeling all along, it quickly gained popularity. Soon, content creators took off with the idea and began making tons of videos describing the experience as well as leading people through it.

Overview

In recent years, the terms brain orgasm and ASMR have become a part of the popular lexicon as millions of Americans have discovered the concept on social media.

The quest to have this experience has gone viral. As of 2020, there are 2.3 million Google searches per month for ASMR content.

ASMRtists

A quick google search of "ASMR" or "head tingles" will lead you to an overwhelming multitude of videos explaining what it is and how to experience it as well as a huge variety of ASMR-triggering videos tailored to just about every conceivable trigger.

That said, hundreds, if not thousands, of new options are posted daily. For the most popular ASMRtists, this has become a lucrative full-time job.

Unknowns

However, despite growing anecdotal evidence and the millions of people out there who are now sharing this experience, it is still unclear exactly how or why ASMR works.

Theories for what it really is include mini, non-harmful seizures, a previously unknown facet of the brain's pleasure response, the sensation of intense calming of the nerves in the head, and/or simply a normal variation of the human brain.

While many people report experiencing this sensation, it is unclear exactly why some people do and some do not, as well as if those that do not are actually capable of it or not.

It may be that some people are more adept at it and others will find it more elusive—or that some people's brains are simply wired for it and others are not.

Studies have confirmed that distinctive brain activity occurs during ASMR.

One 2019 study found that "individuals with ASMR showed increases in neural activity in regions of the cortex related to attention, audition, emotion, and movement" when watching ASMR content while those in the control groups did not, indicating that ASMR is a complex experience involving both sensory and emotional features.

Promoting Calm and Sleep

Some ASMR content makers liken the experience to a biofeedback reward which promotes relaxation and stress reduction. Interestingly, many of the most common triggers, including melodic, quiet sounds, soft breathing, and caring, close attention are similar to the calming techniques often used to soothe babies and young children.

Likewise, the repetitive, gentle, background-like noises, such as light tapping, crisp sounds like biting an apple, or the sounds of a hairbrush running through hair or a makeup brush running over skin are akin to those used in noise machines intended to help people focus or fall asleep.

Additionally, many people do use ASMR videos for the purpose of falling asleep rather than (or in addition to) having head tingles.

Is ASMR Sexual?

The name "brain orgasm" implies a sexual response, but the experience itself is not considered overtly erotic. Instead, it's very much PG-13.

While ASMR does share something similar to the tingly, warm pulses of feeling often described in a traditional, sexual orgasm, the brain orgasm experience is centered in deep, some might say euphoric, relaxation.

When comparing a brain orgasm to an erotic one, think of the distinction between listening to captivating but relaxing or restorative music or having a hug from a dear, platonic friend rather than the rush of a passionate kiss between lovers.

People who have these experiences describe a pleasant, trance-like state or a feeling of supreme relaxation of the head and neck that sometimes extends to the spine, limbs, or other parts of the body. Usually where it's felt depends on the intensity of the response.

However, most people do not liken it to a sexual response, a softer version of porn, or fetishism.

In fact, some in the ASMR community specifically reject the idea that it is sexual and dislike the term brain orgasm for this reason. Those that participate in this activity often are uncomfortable with the connotation that what they are doing is somehow illicit or porn-like in nature, particularly when most report no eroticism in their experiences.

Relaxation and positive feelings, yes. Arousal, no. Others embrace the whimsy of the terms "brain orgasm" and feel it accurately articulates the sensation and aren't worried that some might deem it sexual.

In one study, an overwhelming majority of respondents (84%) reported that they did not consider ASMR to be sexual in nature, and only a small minority (5%) did report a sexual response.

Personal Attention

However, intimacy and personal attention do play a large role in triggering this sensation.

The most prevalent methods of bringing on this response include using close whispering, hand motions, specific, physical sounds like chewing and scratching, and guided scenarios or role playing of intimate (but chaste) social situations like getting a massage or a dental cleaning.

What this kind of content often shares is that it involves a caring, gentle close encounter (in person or simulated in a video) with another person. This may explain how ASMR builds a feeling of connection, being cared for, and emotional intimacy that may in turn play a part in triggering the calming and/or tingling affect.

Calming and Arousing (Non-Sexual)

Interestingly, participants, both anecdotally and in many studies, often report the seemingly opposite responses of relaxation and excitement to their triggering videos.

Researchers surmise that the self-reported simultaneous activating and deactivating positive emotions caused by these videos point to the complexity of ASMR and compare it to nostalgia, which is often a bittersweet happiness.

Additionally, some evidence points to the idea that complex emotional experiences can be good for you—even better than purely positive ones. In fact, one 2013 study found that those that experienced this type of mixed or complex emotion more often had relatively better physical health outcomes than those who did not.

How Do You Know?

So, if you want to try to experience it, how do you know if you are actually having a brain orgasm? In short, if you're experiencing ASMR, you'll just know.

Like truly spotting one of the hidden pictures in the stereogram or magic eye craze of the 1990s or having a sexual orgasm, if you're not sure if it's the real thing, then it probably isn't.

Just like with the magic eye or the big O, the real thing will pop out at you, so to speak, in a big, undeniable way. Interestingly, with ASMR, what some may find annoying or merely distracting, others will find calming and tingle-inducing.

So, if you watch an ASMR video and feel the tell-tale rush of warm tingling or a pleasant pins-and-needles feeling, you're having a brain orgasm.

Likewise, some people experience it as a trance-like relaxed state or even fall asleep, which can also legitimately be called ASMR, although some might limit a brain orgasm or head tingles to actually feeling those electric, prickly sensations.

How to Have a Brain Orgasm

For some people, there is no trying involved in ASMR. For others, it may take more effort to get there—and still others may try but never achieve the feeling.

For those who find it the most intuitive, the experience may happen to them naturally in their daily lives. In fact, many people who have ASMR report first experiencing it in childhood. However, others also only discover brain orgasms or head tingles in adulthood.

The area of the body triggered seems to be related to how powerfully a person was triggered by the stimulus but also ranges person to person. More intense reactions tend to travel farther in the body, along the spine, and are sometimes felt on the legs and/or arms.

Common ASMR Triggers

Triggers of ASMR are highly individual, but there are common triggers shared by many who experience this phenomenon. Below are the most effective audio-visual stimuli reported by participants in one study:

  • Whispering (75%)
  • Personal attention (69%)
  • Crisp sounds (64%)
  • Slow movements (53%)
  • Repetitive movements (36%)
  • Smiling (13%)

While it's hard to know how (or if) you will respond when trying to experience this sensation, there are some straightforward techniques you can follow to try to induce an autonomous sensory meridian response.

Firstly, understand that triggers seem to be highly variable relating to personal preference, although as noted above, there are common themes to the most effective methods.

In general, head tingles often happen in response to soothing, repetitive sounds such as tapping, rustling, crunching, or touching and from soft, whispered voices in a variety of scenarios, especially those that are up close and/or involving personal care, such as of the person getting a facial or lightly touching your face and head.

Another variable to consider is that some videos offer much more elaborate scenarios (or role play) while others are very simple (like just sounds or whispering)—you may need to experiment to find what is tingly to you. You'll find a wealth of both options (and everything in between) online.

Essentially, anything that evokes feelings of well-being, relaxation, being cared for, or speaks to you in some way may work to elicit this response.

Likely, if you were a person who might experience this feeling in real life, as in during an actual haircut, you would know this by now. So, the best way to discover ASMR is simply to look up videos that may appeal to you and try them out (more helpful tips below).

Potential Benefits

Research on ASMR is still in the beginning stages, so there is still much to learn. However, there is overwhelming anecdotal evidence of significant mental and physical health benefits of brain orgasms or ASMR, as well as some emerging research evidence to back up those claims. People who practice ASMR espouse its benefits as calming, relaxing, and meditative—as well as very enjoyable.

Anecdotal reports of ASMR experiences also appear to share some features with the state of “flow,” which is the state of intense focus and diminished awareness of the passage of time that is often associated with optimal performance in activities such as sports.

Studies that have been done consistently find that many participants use ASMR to achieve the following benefits:

  • Anxiety reduction
  • Emotional regulation
  • Entertainment
  • Feelings of interpersonal connection
  • Improved mood
  • Increased positivity
  • Mindfulness
  • Pain reduction
  • Relaxation
  • Sleep, both to help them fall asleep and improve the quality of sleep
  • Stress relief

Lowered Heart Rate

Research shows that brain orgasms result in measurable physiological effects, including lowered heart rate and increased skin conductivity— an example of the concurrent deactivating and activating responses mentioned above.

Interestingly, the same research shows that the reductions in heart rate found during ASMR are comparable to those achieved in music-based stress reduction therapies and even more effective than some mindfulness-based stress relief programs.

Improved Mood

Studies show that engaging in ASMR content improves the mood and lowers stress in the vast majority of viewers, including those with depression and anxiety. In fact, in one study, participants who had depression experienced a greater improvement in mood than those without depression.

Inducing Sleep

ASMR is also effective for combating insomnia. Many people report using ASMR right before bed to induce sleep, and some content is made explicitly for this purpose.

Increased Connectedness

ASMR may also fight loneliness. There is significant research showing that social isolation and loneliness contribute to health decline. ASMR may offer a way for people to increase feelings of connectedness, which in turn may positively influence their physical health. In fact, a 2015 meta review study found that both perceived and actual social isolation produce a substantial risk factor for early mortality.

Types

As noted above, there are many unique types of ASMR sensations—from the way the feeling is experienced to the content that triggers it. Some people will experience the tingling just on the head, while others feel the sensation radiating down various parts of the body, such as the arms and legs.

Tingly vs. Relaxing (or Both)

Additionally, the content that triggers brain orgasms can range from soothing, simple actions with familiar sounds such as crinkling paper, whispering, and brushing hair to elaborate role play scenarios of someone acting as a doctor, aesthetician, or other social or personal care interaction. Usually, whispering, closeness, and personal attention are key elements.

Some people who use ASMR are solely after the tingly effects, while others seek to experience other specific feelings, such as a euphoric calm, deep relaxation, trance-like state, and/or falling asleep.

Stress Relief

Some people respond more to the sounds, while others seek more visual stimulation. Interestingly, one study found a positive correlation between those who experience ASMR and those who have an increased "openness-to-experience" as well as neuroticism, as in someone who is more anxious or sensitive. This indicates that scenarios inducing stress relief may be especially relevant to ASMR-reactivity.

Brain Orgasm vs. Music Chills

Similar but distinct sensations are the chills some people experience when listening to music as well as the awe experienced by viewing something particularly beautiful.

However, while both music chills and aesthetic chills also produce physiological changes that can be described as tingly, they result in an increase in heart rate rather than the decrease in heart rate typically found in those having ASMR.

Tips and Tricks

For many ardent ASMR-devotees, simply watching their preferred content induces a brain orgasm, while others may need to work a bit harder for the sensation to occur. Try the following strategies to up your chances of experiencing this tingly feeling.

Setting

Many users of ASMR report that watching videos in a quiet, calm, comfortable environment is most effective for inducing the desired brain tingle response.

Pick a place that is distraction-free and feels safe and comfortable. Low light and limited background noise are optimal as well.

Focus

Aim to give the video total focus. If you are doing something else at the same time, say scrolling through a news feed or your emails on your phone, you're less likely to experience the desired ASMR.

Sound

While many of the videos include whispering and other soft noises, you want to be sure you can hear it well. Using headphones to deepen the sound stimuli and also block out any background noise is also recommended by many participants in ASMR.

Novelty and Tolerance

Just like many things in life, repetition can bring boredom or lack of reactivity. This is true with ASMR as well. Many people report that they may become less receptive to videos the more they watch them.

So, it's helpful to vary your triggers and content providers in order to continue to experience the desired response.

Questions of Representation

Some people are uncomfortable with and question why so many of the content creators are young, attractive, and female (and also often white), drawing criticisms of institutional sexism and racism.

This observation also invites comparisons to the exploitation of young women in many other realms of life as well as the exclusion of historically marginalized communities.

In addition to the more prominent young, white female faces of ASMR, there is an emerging crop of more diverse ASMRtists that enthusiasts can tune in to watch.

Also, while most ASMR enthusiasts do not seek out the content for sexual purposes, some do—and some of the content can be construed as overtly sexualized as in videos that rely on using "mouth-play" (mouth noises like kissing or tongue-clicking) and showing lots of cleavage or other typically erotic body parts or poses.

However, another pertinent comparison is that women are also often caregivers, and as ASMR content usually exudes gentleness, compassion, relaxation, and intimacy, it may make sense that many women are drawn to working in this field—and that many viewers instinctively choose female ASMR content creators.

Popular ASMRtists

The majority of the most successful and well-known ASMR content creators are young women, as noted above, who whisper, perform role play scenarios like folding towels or crumpling paper, and orchestrate other sounds close to the camera.

Some of these makers talk directly to their viewers and walk them through the experience, while others simply create the stimuli.

Some of the most popular, who have many multi-millions of devotees between them, include the following:

However, searching a bit more online will easily find you a wide range of people producing these videos from every walk of life and background. You'll find makeup artists, sound therapists, former insomniacs, and everything in between.

What most of them share, however, is a kind, soothing voice and a passion for creating community and connection to help their viewers relax, sleep, and feel good.

A Word From Verywell

Gentleness, well-being, euphoria, tingly warmth, stress relief, calm, and sweet slumber are some of the attributes of a brain orgasm or ASMR. What's not to like? For those who experience it, the answer is usually nothing. Instead, they sing the praises of this deeply relaxing, restorative sensation.

Even better, this phenomenon is easily accessible to many simply by watching free ASMR content online. So, if you're intrigued and want to feel some tingles for yourself (or find help falling asleep), sign on and give it a try.

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