At various moments throughout my life I've experiencing a pleasurable, fuzzy, tingling sensation spreading across the back of my head. While it's actually not a sexual thing, I guess the reason some people are calling it a head or brain orgasm is because you do experience a kind of whole-body relaxation response during and afterwards. And, frankly, there hasn't been any suitable way to describe it, until now.
Although I've had these sensations on and off – and they are pretty rare, I have to add – I only discovered the whole online debate about them a few months ago, when we were putting together a feature for the December issue of Top Sante (below) about the power of touch. I asked Larissa, the deputy feature's editor, to include a section "about that strange tingly sensation you get when you go to the hairdressers or listen to a moving piece of music". I thought everyone got it, but turns out I'm in a minority. And now there's an entire online community of people dedicated to explaining it and trying to replicate the auditory stimuli you often need for a 'head orgasm' to happen.
|The December issue of Top Sante magazine, containing the article about the healing benefits of touch|
My eyes also often go into soft focus, perhaps because I'm slipping from a beta brainwave state into alpha or even deeper. I'm not sure.
ASMR - the official name for 'head orgasms'
Scientists don't really know very much about this sensation or why only certain people experience it. One attempted to research it more and gave it the name ASMR, meaning autonomous sensory meridian response, so she had more chance of receiving funding (imagine going to sponsors saying 'yeah I'm going to be researching head orgasms'). In researching this post I also found this site, ASMRlab, which lists some of the different triggers for ASMR.
Russell Brand made a video on YouTube questioning whether ASMR videos were the new porn for women, but I can report that the sensation is nothing like sexual pleasure, at least it isn't for me (perhaps there is a subset of ASMR people who do get sexual feelings as well, but I have no idea about that).
The sensation makes me feel the total opposite of sexy, in fact. There's no heightened state or arousal or energy directed 'down there'. It's just incredibly soothing – and really hard to explain in words! ASMR videos are purely made for the sounds they produce – the content is pretty pointless, fluffy and meaningless – well, except for one lady I've discovered, but I'll get to her in a minute... And if some people, men I imagine, watch them to 'get off' on the fact that an attractive young woman – they're predominantly made by young females – is starring into their eyes, whispering and 'caressing' things, then that's a whole other matter, but it's not the reason d'etre of the videos.
Tingles as child
I have experienced this tingling since I was a child. It must have started from the gentle caresses and strokes my gran and mum would give me as a toddler. I clearly liked the feeling so much that by the age of four or five I would beg for Gran to 'make me soppy', as we called it. We'd sit on her sofa and I would offer up my bare arm for her to gently stroke with her fingers and fingernails. It was always the fingernails that felt best, and not in a hard, scratchy way. It always felt nicest, too, on the underside of my arms, near the wrist where the skin is thinner. Sometimes I'd even stick my lower leg on her lap! Legs and arms were the best 'conductor's for the tingles, I found.
Guess that comb!
Another trigger for the tingles was the 'guess the comb' game my mum and I played. I was probably about 10, and had a set of eight red combs, varying in size from chunky ones for combing wet hair, to very fine-toothed ones with pointy tales. Mum and I would take it in turns to sit in front of each other on the floor and slowly comb each others hair. The 'game' part of it was having to guess which comb was being used and which end. It wasn't exactly difficult and was usually took me a few seconds to work it out, but I would always drag out answering because it felt so nice, especially when the combs went near my ears or near the nape of my neck – total tingle trigger! I reckon Mum experienced the same feelings too as she, like me, would sit and make lots of 'mmmmm' noises, both of us like a pair of purring cats.
|This set from Directhairdressingscissors.co.uk is very similar to the one my mum and I used to use to get head tingles|
ASMR can come from a variety of stimuli
But as the Wiki description implies, ASMR doesn't only come from touch. I have gotten it from other stimuli, too. I still recall the time I went to visit an elderly neighbour after I'd returned from studying in America, age 20, to show her my three huge albums of photos. We sat side by side at the kitchen table, but not touching. As she slowly turned the creaky pages, which were those hard cardboard sheets covered with clear sticky plastic, something about the crinkly sound they made, coupled with the low, hushed tones in which she spoke, set the tingles off big time.
Another example was from aged 30 or so, in a previous editing role, where a lady called up to talk about a new therapy. Something about the tone of her voice, so soft and gentle, made my head and neck buzz and put me into a deeply relaxed state. Normally I try to end phone calls as quickly as possible as I'm so busy but this time I kept the woman on the phone for ages, asking more and more questions because I didn't want the feeling to end! She must have thought I was really interested in the therapy, but it was more about how she spoke rather than what she talked about.
I've even had the tingles, but in a less noticeable away, from listening to certain moving pieces of music. Perhaps I like this feeling so much because I'm a naturally stressy person, and this switches on my parasympathetic nervous system to calm me down.
The YouTube ASMR community
There are now thousands of people making ASMR videos - they call themselves ASMRtists. While I've not yet found one that creates the same intensity of tingling as being in an actual real-life situation, some of them nevertheless put me into a very relaxed state. My favourite by far is Maria whose Youtube channel 'GentleWhispering' has more than half a million subscribers!
I'll confess I once spent a whole Saturday morning listening to back-to-back clips, trying to find the ones that worked best – generally the ones where she gently taps and scrapes things such as bumpy phone cases, various packaging, especially anything crinkly, and also flipping through pages (see above). But sometimes it's just the way she pronounces words with the letters T, S and K, which create a sort of clicking noise. Another reason I like Maria is that as her videos have progressed, they've not only gotten better - she clearly uses her advertising money to invest in new microphones and props - but she actually sometimes opens up about her life and her fears, and always makes the viewers feel appreciated and wanted, which perhaps goes a long way to explaining her huge following who, by the way, send her fan mail and gifts.
Nothing more than freaky side shows?
Now, for people who don't 'get' ASMR, either literally or figuratively, everything I've said so far probably sounds totally weird, and you might frankly be disturbed by the fact so many people are watching these videos and feeling relaxed by them. My husband for one can't stand them. He finds them totally creepy, freaky, and says they remind him of horror movies. So, clearly they are an acquired taste. He gave me a 'don't you dare' stare the other day when I casually mentioned I was thinking about making my own ASMR videos and began going round the house tapping my fingernails on things to find suitable props.
Anyway, if this is the first you've heard about ASMR, then do check out a few of Maria's videos. You'll either think I and thousands of others are total nutters, or you'll have discovered a fantastic new way to relax and even get to sleep. This Sleep track is purely whispering, no objects, designed to listen to right before bed. And, if that doesn't work, you could try this (below) known by some as an 'orgasmatron'. It's a head massager. It's nicer if someone else uses it on you, but you can of course use it yourself. In fact, I've bought one for myself as an early Christmas present. So, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to, erm, pleasure myself...
|A head massager, or 'orgasmatron' as some call it, perfect for creating ASMR aka head tingles|