"This FEELS SO REAL!" Sense and sexuality in ASMR videos

Emma Leigh Waldron


This paper explores the intimate performances in “personal attention” ASMR YouTube videos. ASMR — which stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response — is a term coined by the community of Internet users who experience a particular tingling sensation in response to certain auditory, visual, or haptic stimuli. The sensation often originates in the scalp and travels down the spine and is reported to be immensely pleasurable, as well as relaxing. “ASMRtists” now flood YouTube with a steady stream of high definition videos designed to trigger this sensation for viewer-listeners, often through role-play scenarios that incorporate genre-specific techniques to simulate a personalized, intimate, and sensual encounter with the ASMRtist. This essay draws on affect and performance studies to conduct an analysis of these YouTube videos — using specific examples from the ASMRtist Olivia Kissper as case studies — in order to explore how media infrastructures produce the incarnation of sexuality through the process of mediated intimacy. Ultimately, it works towards a radical redefinition of sexuality that is more centered on affect than on bodily gestures, and suggests that through this lens the consumption of ASMR videos can be seen as a sexual practice and the configuration of ASMRtist, viewer-listener, and digital technology can be seen as a sexual relation.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v22i1.7282

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