Imaginary Playmates: A Week With My ASMR Boyfriend
Surrounded by this voice drenched in a Southern lilt, this talking book full of affirmations encapsulates me with whispered tones of “I love you” and “I can’t live my life without you.” You know it’s not for you yet it feels as if you’re the only woman in the world listening. You can tell through the comments below the video that you aren’t alone — there’s a community of like-minded women blessed to hear a man — this man — dote out words of affirmation as they — like you — curl up under the duvet and drift in and out of lucidity. The heavy breathing, the sighing, the “no, I’m still awake…”, the -fill-in-the-blanks conversation meant to induce slumber, all of it is just twenty-five minutes of a fantasy. An internet-birthed, unorthodox, borderline-insane, flesh-medicating fantasy.
Abbreviated as ASMR-BR, Autonomous sensory meridian response-boyfriend roleplay consists of men with very appealing voice boxes talking, laughing, breathing and being all things boyfriend — in recorded form. He asks about your day, calls to say that he misses you and even kisses you in between your favorite scenes in a movie. He’ll talk to you until you fall asleep or sex you into an intense shut-eye, whatever a good boyfriend must do to ensure that you know he’s forever yours.
I had no idea of its existence until a chance encounter with a YouTube link led me down a rabbit hole filled with words of affirmation and growls of pleasure coming from the voice of a Black man acting in place of a real boyfriend. Curiosity of a qualitative kind got the best of me and as I went deeper into this fantasy world, I wondered what it would be like to have him be my reality for a week. Challenging my holiness and hormones, my ASMR boyfriend gave me one hell of a ride. Just like a boyfriend should.
HOW WE MET
“Girl, you need to hear this shit right here…” was the introduction I read on my social media timeline. “This dude’s voice got me all the way open.” It was a link to a YouTube page for a man who claimed to be “my boyfriend.” I scanned through the titles of his videos: “cuddling by fireplace”, “clingy, pillow talk.” I then see something called “ASMR boyfriend roleplay”. I became a mix of curiosity and confusion.
I hit the Google and landed on a New York Times article from last year entitled, “What Does Having a Boyfriend Have to Do with Sleep?” I then see what appears to be a white teenage boy. I quickly categorized ASMR-boyfriend roleplay as some new internet shit that the kids do. No different from when we spent hours on message boards reading fanfiction in between rapid fire chats on AIM, this is their version of the World Wide Web. Reading the article made me laugh and cringe. My inner-Auntie worried about how young girls could created false images of relationships based on curated sounds meant to always sounds good. This was ‘Disney Princess Love Story’ in audible form; a beautiful fantasy in place of an ugly reality. But then my level of experience with the real thing cut into my wrath of concern and protection.
Personally, I wouldn’t know what the reality holds: I’ve never had a boyfriend. The benefits of possessing a boyfriend with special slumber mechanics escape me — even into my 30s. I surmise it would be better than sleeping with a stranger, a deed I knew far too well in my not far off old days. Based on that experience, hearing a man talk me into sleep sounds like a detriment.
But as I read the article, it struck a nerve in 16-year-old Ciara. As a girl who zoned out about crushes who undoubtedly wanted nothing to do with her and wrote B2K fanfiction to make up for a lack of a teenage love affair, I could totally understand the appeal of tucking myself into bed to press play on some boy telling me how beautiful I was and how I was the best thing to ever happen to him. Devoid of that in real life, I would have felt beyond special. The dissonance of this not being a “real” relationship would’ve been lost on me. I wrote myself into my fanfictions so I could be in the relationships that eluded me as a teenager. This would be no different.
Yet I only knew ASMR to be tapping keyboards and whisper-reading novels. I also knew that those who listen do so because it “sounds good” to hear certain noises and sounds. Of course a boyfriend can sound good, right?
The ASMR-BR genre — by a simple search on YouTube — is dominated by who appears to be teenage boys, particularly white ones. Similar to the ASMR genre as a whole, there aren’t many voices of color in the ASMR-BR space. So here lies this grown Black man playing boyfriend on internet. How does this happen? Who gave him this idea? There’s an audience for this type of stuff?
Pressing play for the first time, I couldn’t fight my Enneagram-typed desire to ascertain what was going on around me. Who is this man? What is that noise? How is he making that noise? I bet he’s sucking on ice to recreate that kissing sound? How is he superimposing all of these other effects? I was so caught up in the mechanics of what I was listening to that I missed the point of what it’s about: a feeling.
I felt something. I remember a faint blush on my cheeks as my body sank into a slight case of embarrassment. Dude’s voice was incredible. I believed his accent to be of the mid-South, a Southern Virginia or Carolinas drip. Texas, maybe. I zoned out imagining his facial structure and beard length. Nine minutes later, after he cooed into my ears with how much he loved me and his desire to wife me, I came back to life and reality in one fell swoop.
That was something else. Shit. I pressed play on everything. Almost all of it.
Many of his videos were labeled as ‘18+’. I knew what that meant. By some of the titles of his videos, I knew those sounds would elicit feelings I fight for the safety of the universe around me. I knew hearing that voice say certain things and make certain noises would rewrite the course of history. I didn’t want to go down that road. But as I kept listening to his recordings, I couldn’t resist. I needed to know how that voice would sound when that would happen.
One video after another. And again. And again. I couldn’t stop playing his content. I came back to Earth but I was done for. You’ll sleep this off, Ciara. Chill out. But I wanted to see if I could fall asleep to his voice, if the positive properties of ASMR boyfriends were true. I decided to end the night with the mission at-hand. Could I fall asleep? Could I actually drift off into a nocturnal wonderland?
I couldn’t. I needed to hear every word. I felt my entire body heat up like your grandma’s favorite cast iron skillet. I knew I was in trouble.
TALK TO ME NICE
I woke up to an imaginary voice note. That’s what you receive when you support him on Patreon: a library of daily voice notes and early access to recordings. Subscribe to his highest tier and you will receive a personal ASMR recording — sexual if you wanted it to be, your name included. Evident in his “morning voice”, he just woke up and noticed that I wasn’t by his side. I left for work early but he just wanted to thank me for “being amazing” and that he “couldn’t wait to see me later on tonight…”
It’s a weird sense of awareness: as you know that these are recordings, you’re still hearing from a real person. This isn’t AI like Samantha in “Her”; it’s a real live person recording themselves with edits and sound effects — someone who is very well aware that he or she is pretending to be someone’s partner.
‘ASMR boyfriend roleplay’ is a derivative of the larger ASMR — or Autonomous sensory meridian response — genre, born in the early parts of the early 2000s by ASMR-er Jennifer Allen. Described as a physiological reaction to sounds, ASMR — when done right — can make one’s body “tingle”, a sensation of fluttering feelings that travel from the top of your head down through your spine causing you to relax, de-stress and, in some cases, fall asleep. Science is now doing the work to ascertain the merits behind the still-considered-by-some-as-a-pseudoscience. Researchers have seen limited responses of relaxation and trance-like mediation and maybe, just maybe, help for those who suffer from insomnia and other sleep problems.
ASMR-boyfriend roleplay is a subset of the genre. There are four general types of ASMR-BR: words of affirmation, general roleplay, sensual/sexual and toxic/jealous. The most innocent of the four, general roleplay and words of affirmation, is what makes up a small but mighty bit of the BR community.
It’s super sweet, boy-next-door. You’ll hear a foundation brush oscillate against a microphone with whispered revelations of “how you’re even more beautiful without makeup” to simulate the sounds of him ‘putting on your face’. You’d do it yourself but exhaustion runs you ragged. You were up all night studying for finals and things are rough at home with your parents. You need a break and he’s planning to give you just that with a date to your favorite restaurant followed by a walk on a beach. Eventually you’ll hear the sounds of laughter in the background and silverware tap against glasses, and later billowing waves and the crackle of a bonfire because “you deserve the world.”
You know that saying, the one where someone goes, “they made my whole body tingle” when talking about their crush? That’s ASMR except your crush is someone rubbing their hands against a hairbrush, typing on a keyboard or, in this case, telling you how much they miss you on a voicenote.
Very my-first-love type of stuff. But it can teeter into some nasty territory — literally and figuratively. What happens when he finds out that you’ve been talking to another boy or catches you looking at his phone? He becomes enraged, belligerent, angry, jealous — toxic.
That’s what the largest subtype of ASMR-BR consists of: rages of jealousy, possessiveness and envy. Cries and whimpers once you break up with him, intense voicemails laced with how much he’ll miss you, how much his life would be over, if you were to leave. It’s the boyfriend-rages-because-he-lost-the-only-girl-he-ever-loved shtick overrunning Wattpad and a cinema near you. That type of ASMR worries child psychologists who believe it normalizes emotional abuse and gaslighting within teen relationships. They’ve been worried since Twilight but this actually sounds good. It makes your body tingle like Edward Cullen in the sun. You don’t want benevolent sensations mingled with manipulation.
Adults can ascertain the difference between the real and fake, from the healthy to the dangerous. I almost rolled my eyes out of their sockets when I first heard my “boyfriend” throw a jealous fit because I didn’t pick up the phone. “You better call me back!” The raging felt immature and stupid — something a teenage boy would do. I get why pubescent girls catch vapors from this but what adult would think, even in a sexy Southern overtone, that threats of departure would demand an emotionally-violent response?
Unless it’s consensual?
HOW DO YOU LIKE IT?
You don’t forget about sex. It’s not something that completely removes itself from your mental Rolodex. It also helps when you can’t escape sex scenes in movies or a love scene in a romance novella. But it’s a chaos that you can control. You can always choose to disengage.
But if your ASMR roleplay boyfriend comes home from a long day at work and asks to wax his day away by sexing you into a mess, how can you turn that down?
A lot of boyfriend roleplay is sexual — on the spectrum of supermarket-aisle romance novels to BDSM super-porn. My ASMR-BR boyfriend’s channel was littered with a mix of both and I was instantly challenged by how much I would indulge into his offerings. I happily label myself as “sex-positive”, someone who “emphasize[s] openness, nonjudgmental attitudes, freedom, and liberation about sexuality and sexual expression.” As long as sex is healthy and explicitly consensual, I’m all for it.
But as a Christian, I recognized how “fleshy” this felt. The sensations, the “tingles”, the physiological reactions are all things of the flesh, fleeting feelings that I’m supposed to deny. These recordings can be sexual even without intention. While some content is labeled as ‘18+’ — pornographic dirty talk, moans, groans, simulated sounds of sexual intercourse — and for the sake of my sanity, I thought not to indulge in them beyond my introductory listen, I was surprised by how much the recordings full of words of affirmation and moments of jealousy elicited a response as if I was ready to match words with physical action. Maybe my love language is wrong? Or maybe just words are enough to make me relent — a weakness thought to be conquered.
But those feelings — those flutters, that heat — are normal responses to arousal. Not sinful but standard. My body responded that way because I’m a sexual being who may be able to procreate. There’s nothing wrong with the physiological feedback these sounds may or may not trigger within me. I don’t lose much sleep over that battle between flesh and spirit. It’s okay if things “feel good”. As a woman who experienced multiple instances of sexual violence, I know what the flesh can really do. Cracking a smile after hearing a man tell me that he’s upset to miss my phone call and treating others as sexual doormats do not equate despite what Christian community tells you.
Despite the fluctuation in emotions, the fact remained: I was listening to a form of pornography. So what lines do I draw?
There’s a hearty debate whether “sex positive Christianity” is not an oxymoron. In my opinion, for a culture that struggles with sexual manipulation and violence, the church could use some more of it. But I realize that one part of being sex-positive — and Christian — is making rational decisions — and creating healthy boundaries — surrounding sex and that those decisions are my own. While I don’t necessarily rage against pornography, I haven’t watched any since I became a Christian. As a romance fanfiction writer, I choose not to write ‘smut’. I’m currently abstaining from sex. Being sex-positive puts the onus in my hands of what I can and cannot handle and what I choose to affirm.
With my ASMR-BR experience, I found myself challenged by what that affirmation means.
At first, I thought to deny the existence of the ‘18+’ content. Even though it’s not labeled as such, any content listed as ‘NSFW’ or ‘18+’ can be classified as pornography. It’s simulated sex, period. Even if I’m not watching people have sex, it’s still sex in some form. But it’s not a video, a website or an illicit gifset on Tumblr. It’s audio. It’s different. I found all the ways to rationalize listening to my “boyfriend” “have sex with me”. I made all of the excuses for it being for “experimental” purposes, so to fully understand the genre.
Simulated orgasms are a trip. At least, I hope they were fake. There’s actually online platforms, like Syrin, that have the real deal in audio immersion content. But they don’t shy away from calling it pornographic. The ASMR roleplay boyfriend is just trying to make my body “tingle”.
To make a long story short, curiosity got the best of me. I got tingles and more.
I also got slapped across the face. I wasn’t ready for that.
It was the moment when my ‘boyfriend’ hit me. That’s when I was sure that I had enough.
It has always been a concern of psychologists and parents-alike of the effects that romance movies have on young girls and women. They worry about idealistic perspectives on love and relationships. When life doesn’t mirror those movies, how much of one’s personal experience is invalidated.
Much of the same concern surrounds ASMR boyfriend roleplay. Teenage girls, the common purveyors of the genre, may have a harder time discerning the fictional elements of roleplay. They’ll also have a more difficulty learning how to cope with the dissolution of a relationship. Not every boy will chase. The inevitability of heartbreak is almost eliminated in this genre; you can choose for him to never break up with you because you’ll never hear otherwise.
You’ll never hear the ugly side of toxicity if you ignore it to begin with. But what if you crave it? The raging, the jealousy, the threats of violence? Toxicity shouldn’t induce tingles, not kind ones. Especially not in a body of a teenager still under construction. Even in the body of adults too, to be fair. But there are women who enjoy hearing their man fight for their love. And you can find an incredible amount of ASMR boyfriends who will give it as rough as they can.
‘Toxic boyfriend’, ‘toxic 18+’ and ‘toxic BDSM’ videos overrun the ASMR boyfriend roleplay genre. Words of affirmation are great but they’re too sweet. ‘18+’ content is okay but it can be too vanilla. Kissing and cuddling amidst a thunderstorm can be too cheesy. Being called a “bitch” or “Daddy’s baby” in a sea of threats because you caught eyes with another man inside of the supermarket in a borderline innocuous way? Women are willing to pay for the high.
I’m not a kink-shamer but Dom/sub roleplay and all other things BDSM are not my wave. It dominates myriads of writer communities that I often channel that Auntie to encourage young writers to not feel pressured to add hyper-sexual explicit content into their stories. Not every reader feigns to be spanked or degraded. It’s okay if your character isn’t all about voyeurism. It’s especially cool if ‘non-con’ (non-consensual) or ‘dub-con’ (dubious consent) sex isn’t their thing. A creative must feel comfortable with their content.
I wonder how my ASMR boyfriend felt simulating a hand raking across a woman’s face. Apparently we were in the midst of our own sexual roleplay. I got ‘caught’ cheating and I wanted him to be upset, to storm out on me — to break my phone and burn my clothes. When I became a ‘brat’, refusing to give him answers to his questions, he could scold me to the point of tears and force me to perform oral sex on him to “make up for it”. I was being such a rebel that he smacked me dead across my face. I proceeded to drop onto my knees in lustful obedience.
This modus operandi wasn’t discussed at any point in the recording. He never asked if I was okay with the name-calling, physical violence and manipulated sex. I never consented to being called a “slut”, even after he noted that we’ve never done this before. I guess it was all implied that I would get off on him treating me like this. I remember pressing pause to breathe. It was intense in all the wrong ways. It reminded me of my sexual assault. I didn’t listen to my assaulter’s demands because I wanted to obey. I did to make it out of the room alive.
Two aspects about this struck me. First, I wondered how he as a creator felt making content that simulates aggressive sexual content. His listeners actively request such recordings so he’s giving the people what they crave and desire. But I could hear the slight hesitation in his voice, the slight stumble in his words. The romantic sexual content came natural to him. This stuff? Not so much.
I then wondered about the intended audience. It’s implied that we’re all adults, that we can ascertain between consent and compliance. If you listen to ‘toxic’ content, you’re consenting to whatever comes with it. But what if you like the jealousy but don’t approve of the abuse or the rape play? What if they, like myself, survived sexual violence? “Hearing” simulated sounds of oral sex after a man grabs you by the hair to “teach you a lesson”? That can be extremely triggering. Most toxic videos don’t have content warnings. While it doesn’t surprise me that men forgo the idea of content and trigger warnings, I figured they give a listener a heads up in the captions. No dice.
He didn’t so I unsubscribed.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
I understand the appeal and affection for ASMR boyfriend roleplay. As a single and celibate woman, I get why an escape to another world where I’m loved and lusted after could be so alluring when my phone is dry and my bed is empty. It’s butterflies, no strings attached. For a brief moment, I cracked a smile at the thought of being missed. That voice did things to me that I still can’t describe. It was beyond tingles. I was legitimately touched.
I also felt ashamed. I didn’t quite understand the desires within me to further delve into this world other than my intense need to touch and be touched. I’m not strong-willed or “filled with enough Spirit” to overcome my fleshly desires. I still have work to do to be close to Jesus. Christians are all about control. We press on each other the ideas of ‘purity’ and ‘chastity’. I’m failing in the eyes of my community every time I saw an email about a new recording and hastily ran to listen.
I’m also a Christian who hates how the church scares believers into shame about sex. I hate how the church discusses sexual consent. The church can’t talk about sex before someone gets to talking about “soul ties” and the umbrella of “sexual sin”.
We are sexual beings. Sex is not a sin. Rape, sexual assault, manipulation and dubious consent? That’s sexual sin. Pastors pressuring members into sex? Sexual sin. Abuse of women and minors covered up by church leadership? Sexual sin. Lying to a woman about your job as a pastor of one of the biggest churches in the country so you can sleep with her? Sexual sin. Some things just don’t equate.
Or maybe that’s how I convinced myself to resubscribe to his YouTube channel.