How Cara Delevingne Discovered the Weird, Wonderful World of ASMR

In which the model and “Suicide Squad” actress gives ASMR, better known as “head orgasms,” a try for W magazine.

by Jun Harada

Photography by Mario Sorrenti. Styled by Edward Enninful

I used to think I was just really ticklish. Whenever I got a haircut as an 8-year-old Asian boy and the buzzy sound of the clippers reached the back of my head, just behind my ears, I’d have to strap myself to the chair to stave off the shivers running down my back. Years later, the feeling still turned up at random and unconnected times in my life – teachers whispering instructions to me during quiet time; someone speaking and more so breathing directly into my ear; any and all Bob Ross reruns of “The Joy of Painting.” Fast forward 20 years and through the power of Internet message boards, I stumbled upon the reason: autonomous sensory meridian response, better known as ASMR.

First coined by a New Yorker named Jennifer Allen in a Facebook group she created, ASMR started making noise – no pun intended – online in about 2013. Headlines soon popped up everywhere in mainstream media: How to Have a ‘Brain Orgasm’ (The Atlantic), Could a one-hour video of someone whispering and brushing her hair change your life? (Slate), The Internet Gives Me ‘Brain Orgasms’ and Maybe You Can Get Them Too (TIME), and my personal favorite My barber gave me a head orgasm: the strange world of ASMR (The Verge).

Conventional wisdom was to connect it to “head orgasms” either because of sheer salaciousness or also because ASMR, like most Internet activities, has always been critiqued as a kind of fetish. Today, ASMR is a full blown subculture, with its own language and manners, that exists almost exclusively on YouTube, where ASMR videos get millions of views a month. Perhaps the most popular is ASMR practitioner “Gentlewhispering”, though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what sets her apart from other stars, if you will, of the genre, who tend to be – judging by their videos – a cross between Bella Swan and your average indie high school crush. (Men are rare in the ASMR space, though it seems at the moment that the second most popular YouTube channel is run by a masseuse going by the name of “MassageASMR”, go figure.)

But the true mecca of the ASMR-ers is, not surprisingly, Reddit. About 115,000 strong on the subreddit /r/ASMR, the group shares any and every new ASMR video they find from across the globe. (Never to be outdone, the porn side of the web also has responded to the ASMR wave. This smaller and most definitely sleazier grouping of ASMR consumers can be found at the fully literal /r/nsfwASMR subreddit.)

Celebrities have so far seldom jumped into the conversation, but perhaps most notable is Molly Shannon, who explained on “Conan” how the TSA makes her feel “orgasmic”. Also fellow comedian Nikki Glaser jumped into the mix with an aptly named YouTube channel, “Nikki GlASMR,” where she dropped two ASMR attempts to little fanfare, before seemingly abandoning the endeavor.

And now, here we have fashion’s favorite goofball – and impressive young actress, if “Paper Planes” and “Suicide Squad” are any indication – Cara Delevingne, who’s never been one to shy away from a challenge. Perhaps, like me, Delevingne was interested in exploring some latent early childhood fascination. Or, more likely, she just wanted to keep the weird going.

Juno Temple channels Blondie in this ASMR rendition of “Rip Her To Shreds”

Juno Temple channels Blondie in this ASMR rendition of “Rip Her To Shreds”