If you came across a video by Maria, known to her more than 430,000 subscribers as GentleWhispering, without real knowledge of what she was doing, you might assume you’d entered a fetishistic YouTube lair. Who is this woman breathing heavily into a microphone? Why is she tapping her finger slowly against the hard wood of a brush handle? But it’s not what you think. Maria, who has asked that her surname be withheld for privacy reasons, is part of the ASMR ( autonomous sensory meridian response ) community, meaning she uses certain tactile and auditory stimuli — the crinkling of a piece of paper, for example — to elicit a tingling sensation, or autonomous sensory meridian response, in her viewers. It’s not meant to be just relaxing. Maybe it’ll even put you to sleep.
In the most popular of her more than 200 videos, Maria brushes her hair, “massages” your temples (by reaching out to the camera), and strokes your cheek with a feather, all the while speaking to you in a hushed tone. “I’m hoping you’re enjoying this,” she says slowly, softly. “I’m hoping that this might help you relax.”