A great many years ago I was leaving college, and wondering, in bloke-ish fashion, why nearly every hetero male fantasy has the woman in a skirt. Attractive women are attractive in anything they wear – that’s why fashion models can pull off nearly any absurdity on the runway, because, if you have the right genes, it doesn’t matter what you wear: you’ll look good doing it.
My analysis eventually confirmed that most of these male sexual fantasies are of the ‘hit and run’ variety. Airline stewardesses, maids, nurses, secretaries – these are ladies you aren’t supposed to be having sex with, or whom you only have a very limited time, or a very high-risk location in which to do the deed. Skirts offer easier access than sexy tight jeans and so it plays into the whole quick and risky thing.
Even in the common fantasies where speed/place/adultery isn’t a big part of the draw, for example cheerleaders, the skirt still is an important part of the vision. As Jackie Treehorn so eloquently stated:
And with 85% of males, in a 2014 study, fantasizing about having sex with someone who is not their partner, that risqué aspect of on-the-fly, don’t-get-caught naughtiness is important.
So that’s what I wrote back then. I noted, finally, that different shades of this basic concept are based on catering to different psychological fulfillments. They represent archetypes of what guys want in their most intimate moments. Do they want to be controlled, to submit their trust to someone else giving directives and making decisions? Dominatrix. Do they want someone to take care of them, soothe their fears, help relax their anxieties, and tell them everything’s okay? Nurse. Do they want someone young and innocent, full of energy and kind of simple who can look up to them (pun not intended, but it works too well to leave out)? Cheerleader. Secretaries are submissive and willing to take dic-tation. (I got a million of ‘em!) Stewardesses, like nurses are to cater to your needs. Tennis instructors are young and peppy but they control the balls on the court (here all week folks!), putting them more in the domination side of the spectrum. College Humor did an amusing video, also in 2014, on the barista as sex-symbol (again, a service-based fantasy):
Millennials consume a lot of porn – more than older generations, and usually on digital devices (we don’t buy magazines, DVDs, and such, which was one of my very first posts on here a decade ago). Of course porn is a big part of the wish fulfillment we’ve been talking about. The fantasies are played out in short online video clips which are easily “consumed”. Since so much of the fantasy is in the head of the viewer they can fill in the gaps left out of a clip that’s only a few minutes long. PornHub (who else?) has some interesting stats on this (of a vaguely NSFW content, of course – not in terms of imagery, but language). People in my age bracket spend about 9 minutes watching porn per session. This is a far cry from the “golden age” of pornography’s hour+ features, or even the 30+ minute story-based porn of the VHS/DVD era. Last year Vice did a piece on Millennial porn consumption that was well-cited. Basically we have less sex, and it is more porn-like, which is pretty unfulfilling (ironically, perhaps, given that porn is designed to fulfill fantasy, after all). We watch more porn, but it leaves us miserable (which just may be this generation’s default, honestly) and seems to mean we’re having less sex – real fulfillment seems ever more elusive.
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This all brings me to ASMR.
I was introduced to the concept quite by accident. A co-worker back in 2015 mentioned that she did reiki. I smiled and nodded, quickly checked for nearby exits – and later that evening looked up “reiki roleplay” on YouTube so I could find out what it was. (I knew it was some sort of spirit healing mystic energy BS but had no specifics. Was it the same as ‘auras’? Was it somehow ‘psychic’? I was curious.) I got results like these:
… and this:
…and on and on for about 200,000 results. Obviously I was intrigued by this ‘ASMR’ since all the reiki people seemed to whisper during their roleplays. But if today you type in “ASMR roleplay” on YouTube you’ll get around a million results. Search for just “ASMR” and it jumps to eight million videos.
I’m not proud of what followed.
I don’t experience ASMR – which adherents claim is a pleasant tingly sensation you get listening to whispering and certain sounds (crinkling paper, latex gloves, spray bottles, tapping on hard surfaces, and such). But the videos were hypnotic, and I ended up frequently watching them before bed.
There is a clear trend in many of these, of “personal attention”, and really there’s no way to describe it, so I picked three videos of this sort to include, to give an idea of what these videos are all about. If you find them disturbing try to stick it out and watch for a couple of minutes:
As the title of this blog post says: kinda creepy, and kinda sad. These three all have millions of views. I’ll reiterate that I’m not proud: but in the evening I inexplicably found attractive young ladies whispering into the camera and pretending to stroke my face to be quite soothing. Whoduh thunkit.
Now, I know I’m not alone in this, and a few other videos will make this clear, that this trend ties in with the fantasies I mentioned previously regarding porn. Take a look at these ASMR roleplays:
“ASMR - MEDICAL EXAM - mouth to mouth resuscitation”
“Realistic Barber Role Play *Straight Razor Shave and Mustache Styling* ASMR”
“ASMR FIRST CLASS Flight and SPA Service - Flight Attendant Role Play”
“[ASMR] Gaming Store Roleplay”
I think it’s safe to say most of these cater to male fantasies. I should note though, that there are roleplay ASMR videos that are presumably targeted towards women, for example:
“Beauty Brow Salon/ ASMR Trimming & Shaping Your Eyebrows”
That said – the number of hits on YouTube for ASMR “for men” or “men’s” is around 300,000; whereas “for women” and “women’s” is only around is only half as many. A lot of these content creators, the ones who get millions of views, have Patreon accounts and sponsors for products. By looking at the ASMR creators’ accounts we can perhaps see that this is a largely male-oriented market. A typical video produced by these young women, as a backer reward, is to read off the names of their patrons, in ASMR:
(I embedded the videos above to underscore the visual point I was making regarding attractiveness, which is not needed for these, but still applies.) Note the list of names is mostly male. Or try this one, from the gamer girl above:
Which, by my count (thankfully she provides a list), has about 25 female names scattered as patrons throughout a *40 minute* video. Each name only takes a few seconds to say, so… yeah. The women account for about three minutes of the video, tops.
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So, by combining these two threads, the one of fantasy, Millennials, and porn, and the second of male-directed ASMR fantasy roleplays, it leads us to a weird place. I guess the question is, have we inadvertently, through ASMR, begun to create emotional porn?
Unfunny jokes have been around for ages, that, since women are emotional and men are clearly little better than Neanderthals, that “porn” for women is a man who will listen. Or cuddle. Or do the dishes. Ha ha – stale humor at its finest. These are all examples, though, of displays of emotional intelligence. And with that I wonder if male-oriented ASMR videos are doing the same sort of thing.
In the world of online porn there is a huge business, like we saw with ASMR, of patronage – young women with a video camera on their laptop who perform for tips. Is the whispering of one’s name on YouTube while lovingly gazing into the camera all that different? It’s an emotional connection, instead of a sexual one, but as we saw – with many of the roleplay videos they are the same archetypes as pornography. There’s ASMR of school girls, yoga instructors, hotel clerks, masseuses, maids, police officers, and on and on. And there’s a large contingent of cosplay crossover, so you can get Harley Quinn or sexy aliens or some other fantasy female to whisper to you as well.
There are only a handful of studies on this stuff – we don’t know how many people actually get tingles when they watch these videos. But I feel confident, among the 8,000,000 videos, many with millions of view apiece (apparently the most-watched has been seen 18 million times) that they suggest, in concurrence with the plethora of male-oriented content and male backers, that a lot of it is not so much for tingles but just to see pretty ladies being virtually nice to men. And while Millennials are watching porn for ever-shorter amounts of time, these emotionally resonant ASMR videos of affirmations, compliments, and telling you "everything's going to be okay" are usually around half an hour in length, and often longer.
I’ve been watching these videos for two years now, and they are proliferating ever more quickly, meaning attractiveness is increasing at an accelerating rate – with millions of views at stake it’s no wonder. For a few hundred bucks in startup equipment, making a few videos a month, you can earn a decent salary – if you become a top creator. It may beat the alternative way for young women to make money from online videos, though.
Which is… sad. In a generation that already is so into porn, but for whom their sex lives are increasingly unfulfilled, perhaps the trend over the past few years of ASMR catching on is a way of filling the emotional void many people have from their lack of meaningful relationships. Studies suggest that even people who are having a normal amount of sex compared to previous generations still watch porn – the quantity of sexual activity doesn’t seem to change folks’ porn-viewing habits much.
While not a new idea (see Charlie Brooker or the film “Her”) we may be seeing the first non-sci-fi version of this virtual connection. Instead of computers trying to comfort us, we’ve opted for real young women – who stroke our faces across an impossible screen. And if that isn't as or more tragic than substituting sex for pornography – I don't know what is.