Dev Ritchie vividly recalls the first time she experienced ASMR—a sense of well-being combined with a tingling sensation on the scalp and neck that was often felt in response to sounds.
She was sitting in a coffee shop with a friend who had told Ritchie she wanted to show her something. Allowing her companion to put headphones in each of her ears, Ritchie closed her eyes and listened to the barbershop-based ASMR video her friend discovered. Her whole body tingled. She was instantly hooked.
She wasn’t alone. According to ASMR University, there are around 500,000 ASMR channels (an acronym for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) and 25 million ASMR videos on YouTube alone, and the hashtag #asmr has garnered more than 460 billion views on TikTok. Creators in the space create sound-based content designed to evoke the feeling of ASMR in viewers, often attracting millions of views in the process. The niche involves recording certain sounds – often things like a knock or click – in striking detail through the use of microphones.
The ASMR niche has given way to a wide range of vloggers dedicated to specific subjects, such as electronic restoration and even barbershop experiences. Ritchie, who now creates her own ASMR content, occupies one of its most controversial subgenres: a genre whose creators call it sensual ASMR. Videos in the niche often feature the sounds of sexually charged licking, kissing, and “wet” massages, all amplified through the use of microphones.
The popularity of sensual ASMR pales in comparison to traditional ASMR – Ritchie’s most viewed video “HOT Step sister give you HJ ASMR” has 1.5 million views, while the most viewed ASMR video on YouTube has 407 million. But its appeal is undeniable. Ritchie alone has garnered more than 70,000 subscribers under the GanjaGoddess moniker by releasing clips with titles like “Boob Massage ASMR,” “HOT Teacher PUNISHES You ASMR,” and “Moaning and Dirty Talk ASMR.”
“ASMR videos containing sexual audio may be age restricted or removed from the platform.”
Of course, there’s an audience for the content Ritchie creates — but YouTube doesn’t see the appeal in their industry. A year ago, Ritchie received a message explaining that her videos had been protested because of their sexual nature. Since then, the platform has redoubled its efforts to combat the spread of sensual ASMR. In its September 7 policy change announcement, YouTube stated that it “tightened our policies to better identify and respond to ASMR content that is sexually satisfying,” adding that “ASMR videos containing sexual audio sounds can be age restricted or removed from the platform. Ritchie, like many other YouTubers in her niche, is concerned that her videos could all be deleted.
There’s an undeniable raunchy component to sensual ASMR videos, but raunchy is also a spectrum – removing anything that might be sexually titillating from YouTube would mean removing all possible scenes from mainstream movies or television. And many YouTubers argue that they’re not just about sex. Elcee Orlova, a former model turned ASMR vlogger, thinks the mantras she utters in her videos — which are usually declarations of love, care, and affection to the viewers of her clips — keep people coming back for more.
“I get comments like, ‘Thanks for your video. In my whole life nobody has ever said that to me.’ The edge For data protection reasons. She has garnered over 40,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel, ASMR GIRLFRIEND, where she uploads videos with titles such as “ASMR Girlfriend Gives You A VERY WET Massage” and “ASMR Girlfriend Measures You and Finds Out Your Size.” “I believe that my videos can help [those people] feel cared for,” she adds, “and appreciated for who they are.”
Ritchie has similar feelings about her work. “There are a lot of people out there, whether they want to admit it or not, who have major problems with loneliness. I call myself her e-friend,” she says. “I take the time to talk to them, I tell them things and I take care of them. It will make them feel better.”
“There are a lot of people out there … who have a lot of issues with loneliness.”
In the eyes of the ASMR creators, the content they offer is not inherently sexually explicit or violates YouTube’s policies. It’s all based on the power of suggestions – and is often used to lure in potential clients who might want to check out their more X-rated work. “Most of the traction I get from YouTube I use just to flow into OnlyFans. It’s like a billboard that I get paid for somehow. For example, now that you see what my tongue can do, come and watch me do other things with it,” explains Kaitlyn Siragusa, a 28-year-old sensual ASMR content creator and streamer from Texas who has more than 8 million Twitch and YouTube followers under the Amouranth name. “I don’t know any girls who only do sensual ASMR,” she adds. “They always do harder things [on the side].”
ASMR creators’ reluctance to explicitly label their content as sexual is understandable in the context of YouTube’s policies. The platform does not allow sexual content if its primary purpose is sexual gratification, nor content that “involves the depiction of sexual acts or fetishes intended for sexual gratification.” The guidelines are also clear that links to websites that violate these guidelines – such as sexually explicit OnlyFans pages – are not allowed. It doesn’t help that ASMR has often been classified as a fetish, although creators in all of its niches vehemently deny this is the case. Admitting that their ASMR content is sexually satisfying or being used to promote adult content could mean the creators risk having their videos banned or their accounts deleted.
How YouTube’s rules for sensual ASMR should apply is up for debate, and YouTube did not return a request for comment on the policy prior to publication. Creators in this field rely on the art of suggestion. Her videos aren’t visually sexually explicit, and the reality of what’s happening — whether it’s licking an ear-shaped microphone or squeaking off-screen macaroni — isn’t necessarily sexually satisfying. YouTube’s enforcement of such policies has also been blurry. Clips of someone called “Fetish Pixie” spitting in front of a mirror, as well as spitting compilations from TikTokers are available on the platform – as well as videos of women sucking each other’s toes or women being tickled while bound in BDSM . Style. Like sensual ASMR, none of this represents sex, but it is widely recognized as sexually charged.
Not everyone thinks YouTube’s rules are a bad thing. “To be honest, I actually support YouTube’s decision regarding ASMR videos that are purely for sexual arousal, like kissing and mic licking,” says Orlova. “If someone wants to enjoy this type of content, they can just switch from YouTube to another sex-related platform and watch the videos there.”
Others blame an increasingly competitive social media ads market, which stalled this year after years of growth. “I think a lot of this is a rat race now. There are so many places people can advertise — Facebook, Twitch, Snapchat, YouTube,” says Siragusa. “The advertising market is now so saturated with all these different platforms. I think it’s a race to the bottom as to who’s the most advertiser-friendly platform that people go to.” But Ritchie believes ASMR’s popularity has made it an easy scapegoat for YouTube, which frequently pressures the site clean of non-family friendly videos.
“The space for nudity and sexual content online is shrinking.”
dr Carolina Are, an innovation fellow at Northumbria University’s Center for Digital Citizens and an expert on online moderation and nudity censorship, points to the impact of FOSTA-SESTA — a US law designed to curb online sex trafficking and make hosting sexual content more risky. “The space for nudity and sexual content online is shrinking and this is of massive concern not only for sexual expression but also for education,” she explains. Over-the-top policies from social media giants have already caused difficulties for safe-sex educators to spread information and even led to the development of “Algospeak,” as words like “lesbian” and “BDSM” are censored against the notion that sexuality and fetish are taboo and are best not discussed. “It feels like an incredibly patronizing, puritanical move,” Are continues. “How platforms try to regulate people’s lives and choices.”
Are also warns that YouTube may not make the distinctions Orlova makes between sensual and non-sensual ASMR. “It’s going to spill over to creators making non-sexual content anyway because that’s what’s happening with these specific policies,” she says. FOSTA-SESTA, for example, has already resulted in queer adult comic artists being inadvertently silenced. “This is very worrying because it means that platforms can decide what type of content is outdated or incorrect at the push of a button.”
Companies, it seems, are mostly at this point. Most social media platforms practice strict policies when it comes to sexual content — Instagram’s famous opposition to the female nipple in all its forms, Tumblr’s porn ban, and OnlyFans’ near-decision to remove sexual content creators from their platform are just three examples of sexual content on social media hygiene era – and drawing the line between lewd and unacceptable content is getting harder by the month. The developers are frustrated. “I just feel like people should be able to enjoy what they want to enjoy,” says Siragusa. “If it makes you feel less lonely listening to girls licking and spitting over microphones, I don’t see a problem with that.”