Hello again, dear friend Anonymous. Welcome back to our sex talk column where readers submit questions, then we do our research and craft a story to answer as many questions as we can. We tapped Dr. Kate Balestrieri—licensed psychologist, certified sex and PACT couples therapist, and founder of Modern Intimacy in Los Angeles, California—to provide her (s)expert knowledge on steamy topics (like how to teach yourself to squirt, everything you need to know about edging and rocking, if nipple orgasms are real, ways to increase your libido, sex stage fright, enjoying outercourse, and more). Today she’s taking the mic in our Ask Us Anything: The Sex Edition, to answer the latest submission. The topic? ASMR sex.
“For the past 14 years, videos created to evoke the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) have exploded all over the internet. Sometimes called tingleheads, people who love ASMR find themselves eagerly searching for the triggers that send a tingly, euphoric sensation across their head, face, scalp, neck, or other extremities. ASMR can elicit a calming response for many, helping to reduce anxiety, fostering a state of calm, and even helping people fall asleep a little easier. Common triggers (stimuli) used in ASMR videos can include whispering, lightly touching different objects for a gentle crackle or tapping sound, mouth noises, moving a makeup brush across a microphone, putting on makeup, or simulating an eye exam. Triggers can be meaningful or nonsensical, but are usually very quiet and inviting.
Not everyone can experience ASMR though, and the videos tend to garner a polarizing response. Some people love it and swear by its effect, and others find it annoying or not very interesting. Research is still catching up, and the science behind ASMR is still not well understood. Some studies note that people who experience ASMR may be experiencing a boost of oxytocin, the neurochemical responsible for feeling bonded or connected to another person. Oxytocin is released during bonding activities, like cuddling, sex, and skin-to-skin contact, and is found to activate the same parts of the brain that light up during ASMR videos.
Other studies hypothesize that ASMR may be akin to synesthesia, which occurs in roughly 1%-4% of people, and means they experience one sensory experience through another. This sensory blending is automatic and can be experienced as hearing colors or hearing a specific word and smelling or tasting food that is not there. Relating to ASMR triggers, hearing a sound may lead to a tactile experience.
Typically, ASMR is not considered a sexual practice, though ASMR erotica is a growing niche. It is no surprise that some people may feel arousal or even affection for ASMR content creators, or while consuming content, given the intimacy of the experience. Think about it this way. To hear a whisper, or the other quiet sounds generated in ASMR content, a person needs a powerful microphone, or they need to be near the sounds. ASMR content gives the brain an illusion of closeness, or an intimate connection.
On top of the relaxation associated with the tingly sensations of ASMR, which can feel amazing (some have described it as a brain orgasm), a relaxed body is more amenable to sensory awareness and sexual arousal. ASMR and sex can be welcome bedfellows. But how do you make that leap? Here are a few things to consider:
1. Identify Erotic Triggers
Everyone’s erotic template is different, and discerning which AMSR triggers to include in erotic play is a personal exploration. Consider what auditory sounds are relaxing to you, but not erotic, if you want less intentionally sexual content. Or you might purposefully seek out sounds that are erotic in their sound or meaning, like sexual words, heavy breathing, or light moans. ASMR content is often audio and visual, so you may want to consider if both are important for your arousal, or if just the audio is what gets you turned on and the visual is distracting. It’s OK if you don’t know exactly what ASMR triggers work for you erotically right away. Take some time to explore different stimuli and themes and make note of how your body and mind respond.
2. Communicate with Your Partner
If you’re thinking of inviting ASMR into partnered sex, the potential is exhilarating! It can also add a layer of complexity because the triggers for ASMR are so unique that you may have a tough time finding stimuli that have the desired effect for you both. Initiating a healthy dialogue about how your bodies respond to different triggers can give you the tools you need to find alignment with content that works for you both, and to take turns, creating space for each partner to have extra tingles at different times.
3. Relax and Enjoy
Once you’ve set out on a plan of exploration or know what triggers are high on your erotic list, all that is left is to open yourself up to the sensory experience. Grab your favorite lube, vibrator, stroker, or other sexual accessory and let the tingles take over. Stay present with the sensations in your body and take things slow. If you’re partnered, communicate with a partner about what works and what doesn’t, maximizing your pleasure potential.”
Dr. Kate Balestrieri is a licensed psychologist, certified sex therapist, certified sex addiction therapist, PACT therapist, and founder of Modern Intimacy, a group practice in Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago. Listen to her podcast, Modern Intimacy, and follow her on IG @drkatebalestrieri.
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