Meet Wokies ASMR, your Virtual Girlfriend. We can call her Jasmine. Jasmine is a creator of ASMR girlfriend content on YouTube and OnlyFans. I had the honor to interview her for a forthcoming book chapter on digital intimacies. We had an honest conversation about online versus offline life, privacy, loneliness and quarantine, sex with robots and the need for personal attention.
Scholars like Sherry Turkle in Alone Together and Zygmunt Bauman in Liquid Love write about the loss of authenticity caused by technological mediation: robots replacing human partners, mobile devices diverting our attention from the people around us. Real intimacy, they say, depends on mutuality, on knowing each other and being in the same place at the same time. Yet, media can also foster new forms of intimacy. When it comes to ASMR, it is well documented (though not scientifically proven) that there are very real effects on the body (‘tingles’), which are tentatively related to relief from anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia and clinical depression.
Intimacy is about things that affect us, our bodies and embodied selves. Is such a relating possible when it is performed publicly and mediated by a screen, from one to thousands of invisible others? Trying to come to terms with such questions, I turned to Jasmine. She started her YouTube channel Wokies ASMR a little over a year ago and by now has 175 videos and 41.4K subscribers. She is in the top 0.35% of OnlyFans.
For people who've never had a girlfriend, or lost one
How would you describe the types of video that you make and the type of labor that is involved?
I create a variety of ASMR content, but my main niche is the girlfriend ASMR. I embody multiple types of girlfriends, ranging from the calm to the needy to the nurturing all the way to the sensual girlfriend. In other videos, I am an Eve character, an android: an AI companion for all.
Everything needs to be right: the setting (whether it’s in bed, in the shower, laying on the rug), the type of lighting I need to evoke the right emotion, costume, how I want my hair, if I want to play a character... Camera angles are vitally important, it is literally down to a science, you have to think through them from the perspective of the viewer. For one of my videos, I have a camera angle that is super high up to elicit the presence of a man or a woman... I don’t want to call it a dominant positon, but to make them feel like they’re in control.
Then of course, you have to work with YouTube and know its algorithms, when to post, how to post. There is the mental preparation, the element of embodiment. In a sense, I am acting, but at the same time it is genuine, because I am pulling it from past experiences. I’ve received a lot of praise for being genuine. I have to think through all these different aspects to give my viewers the virtual girlfriend experience.
Do you watch ASMR videos yourself?
When I first got introduced to ASMR about four years ago, I thought it was weird. But there was a creator, RaffyTaphy, he is one of the earliest ones, and something about his sound... I wouldn’t say the chill bumps from my skull down my spine, but there was something therapeutic about the alternating of the sounds, I found that very relaxing and it did make me sleep. I occasionally enjoy Mukbang videos too.
Once I started getting into ASMR, I stopped watching other people’s videos, to be more focused on my work. I don’t know what it’s about, but I do like hearing myself [laughs]. I find myself at times being relaxed by my own sounds, my voice, even to the point where I fall asleep.
How did you find out this is something that you can do very well?
Initially, I was just perusing YouTube, looking up the different niches and sounds and stuff, when I stumbled upon the girlfriend videos. I was intrigued, I was like, I think I can do that, but I can give my own interpretation, add a little spice to it. I don’t know if it’s my genuineness or my personality that I put into the videos, or I’ve just found a niche that’s exploding, but I knew I could do well with this. Also, I have been a girlfriend before. So I can elicit some of these emotions and try to give someone that experience that might be new to them.
How would you describe the typical viewers of your channel?
When I look at my analytics, the main audience is in the age group eighteen to mid-thirties, mostly male, even though my content isn’t specifically for males, and I have had women reach out. There have been quite a few older men, in their fifties and sixties, but this group is smaller. The typical viewer is seeking some type of care, attention, sexual pleasure. There are people who are alone, who haven’t had a relationship for years... The virtual girlfriend experience is helpful for people who have never had a girlfriend, but also those who are trying to recover from the loss of a girlfriend or wife.
How do you characterize the type of care that you provide? Would you say there is a relation between ASMR and therapeutic practices?
The type of care that I provide goes back to the basics: nurturing, caring, but also the sensual side. I portray a girlfriend but I’m also like a mother who gives the nurturing that we all desire and need. I wouldn’t consider ASMR therapy, because it isn’t yet scientifically proven. Yes, there is a little research out there but it is important to stress that I should not be used to replace therapy.
Yet, some people don’t have access to healthcare. Right now, things are really tight for people and we can’t all spend several hundred dollars on a therapist. I am not a champion of medication and antidepressants. I like holistic medicine and try to put some insights into my content. I’m not an expert, but I have certain ideas about what is good for the body and the mind, and try to utilize that knowledge in my videos. I believe that our bodies can heal themselves. On my OnlyFans, I talk about the sexual side of this and encourage people to have an orgasm every day. Your stress levels will go down. You can consider me a friend willing to openly share this type of advice, in a very low-threshold, approachable way.
Attention as a two-way-street
So even though it should not be used as a substitute for therapy, I fullheartedly believe that ASMR can have therapeutic benefits. I have received an array of messages to that effect. People tell me my content has cured their insomnia and alleviated their depression. Someone reached out to me and told me ‘hey, you kept me from committing suicide’. I don’t know, I can just read what they’re saying and take it to heart. It can get pretty emotional. I definitely have seen a spike since the pandemic, a huge influx in both my YouTube subscribers and my OnlyFans. People thank me for helping them through the quarantine, some literally saying I saved their life.
You feel like someone's there
Those type of responses help me continue to make these videos, they keep me motivated. Because it can be hard to keep on doing this work. I’m a perfectionist, every single video, every selfie, every lingerie shoot has to be perfect... It’s a lot of work. But when I am feeling lonely and maybe insecure, I can just go back over and look at the messages and just see all these positive things.
With YouTube, one would assume that care and attention are a one-way-street. Yet, in videos like ‘ASMR girlfriend needs you’, you emphasize that you need your viewer's attention. This creates a sense of reciprocity. Why is that important?
In any relationship, it’s give and take. I think it’s healthy for people to feel wanted and needed, desired. I think this is where many of our problems stem from: when we don’t feel needed or wanted. So it’s extremely important to have that two-way-street.
I try to create a sense of togetherness, for instance in videos like ‘ASMR girlfriend sleeps while you game’. For this video, I overlaid sounds of me playing the game and I would put that in there to evoke the sense there was someone in the background actually playing. I think this kind of 'ambient gaming' is comforting... You feel like someone’s there, that’s why people like those ambient sounds. Gaming in general is very communal. The onlooker feels like being engaged and they’re in it with you. It feels like you are with a friend, sharing the same space, and that’s a nice feeling.
ASMR girlfriend videos often have an emphasis on ‘caring’ and devoting behavior. Some of these acts, like waiting for a man to come home after work and taking care of him, could be considered stereotypically gendered as ‘feminine’.
I think that’s just because of society’s standards. These patterns are ingrained in society. But we’re portraying a fantasy, that's important to realize: its not realistic.
Would you say that a hypothetical guy who has never had a girlfriend and then watches a lot of your content... could he get unreasonable expectations of women: always waiting for him, all dolled up and pretty, cleaning the house... I would have a big problem if this were to become the standard.
[Laughs] If someone really knew me... That's not always how it is, you know? I do have commenters, who say ‘you are my soulmate’ and I think to myself ‘I promise you... what you see on camera... that is me but I’m really not like that’. But I don’t necessarily tell them that because I don’t want to crush whatever they have going on so I lightly dance around that question.
There are many shades of grey between the 'real' and the virtual.
With ‘real’ relationships, there’s always a small margin of projection as well: you can never fully know another person. Plus, often ‘real’ relationships today are highly mediated, performed through text messaging and Skype sessions.
There are many shades of grey between the real and the virtual. People are in the works of creating robots to solve loneliness. An AI will be able to sense our emotions better than humans can. They won’t judge you, it’s a bit like having an animal: you can tell them anything, they’re always there for you, they’re loyal... It’s more than you can say for some humans. Eventually, we will have robot companions, even in a sexual way. How can you fall in love with something that is actually not real? It’s all in our brain and I guess our brain just doesn’t know the difference.
Especially for generation Z, our future is going to be virtual. This is going to be a new way of life, virtual relationships are a part of the next step in our evolution. The more we continue to go down this road, the less and less I think people are going to be able to have physical relationships.
That sounds like a Black Mirror episode to me. Do you chalk this up to the way media are fully integrated in all aspects of our lives, the fact that we are constantly connected? You mention Gen Z, and news headers typically proclaim they don’t have sex anymore... I wonder, are we talking about guys who cannot get a girlfriend, or are there also people who are simply not interested in ‘the real thing’?
I think these generations are able to live in a content, self-contained way, just with their digital devices. You could consider them asexual I think, they can just please themselves, they are completely satisfied and they don’t need anyone else. Which is a huge thing right now, self-love.
But there’s also lot of depression and anxiety among youth.
Yeah, having said that... obviously, a computer can never substitute for actual, physical relations... and I do think it’s detrimental that people are missing out on getting these basic physical needs fulfilled. Me, I’m often alone, and I am happy and satisfied in my needs, but I’m no stranger to anxiety and stress.
On OnlyFans: 'I like the attention'
In what ways do you interact with your fans? Do you feel that you know some of them personally, how would you describe your relationship?
I interact with my fans on YouTube, responding to their comments as much as I can, also answering emails. But the main platform would be my OnlyFans. I go on there daily. OnlyFans is a platform where people pay for a subscription (mine is $4.99 p/m), although there’s some free content. Often, people consider it ‘porn’ but I don’t do porn in an explicit way, I do show my breasts. On the platform, I’ve created a price guide where fans can pay for different pay-per-view content. They can request custom videos. I make sensual and sexual ASMR and fans can contribute to my content, there is more interaction. There are polls, asking what kind of content they want.
“I feel like I know my fans more than they know me”
People generally like the up-close, sensual ASMR like kissing, right up in the camera. Among my more sexual videos are JOI’s, meaning jerk off instructions. It’s literally me looking pretty, caressing my breasts. I do get into it as well, because I do like attention. Those JOIs, if they are topless you have to pay for them, the others are for free.
So there’s different levels of intimacy?
They want the goods, they gotta pay for it. I know my OnlyFans fans more intimately than my YouTube subscribers, as we are more on that personal level, they’ve seen a little bit more of me. I feel like I know them more than they know me. Often, they ask me for advice on anything from relationships to diet, health, lifestyle... I’ll sit there and correspond about thirty minutes to an hour, it creates a good report with my community and helps me grow my brand.
These fans are a huge priority because they keep the train going. I try to create content throughout the month. I don’t want to bombard the platform. I just post a video every other day or maybe once a week... to keep it interesting, to keep them coming back for more. To keep that mystique alive.
This type of content is as old as humanity: as soon as there were boobs, people probably started showing them. A good thing about these new platforms seems that you have all these layers of affordances which help you instate your boundaries in a precise way.
Yes it’s really nice being in control. I feel safe. Being behind the camera, it’s easier to embody different fantasies and do role plays because you’re not sensing someone else’s vibe. It’s safer than if you were working at a club or elsewhere, offline. I always try to make my boundaries very explicit. If anyone is ever inappropriate, I will bring that to their attention in a professional and respectful manner. I rarely delete or ban anyone, unless their behavior is very bad.
Not suitable for the Christmas table
ASMR artists frequently emphasize that ASMR is not sexual. Still, the artists are often young, pretty women in sexy clothes, and there’s the whispering... Do you ever get responses from people who say it’s porn or sex work, and how would you respond to them?
Let’s be honest, everything revolves around sex. That is the foundation of our being. That’s what I’ll tell people, because I have had a few negative comments along those lines, calling it ‘porn’ and ‘disgusting’. We are aesthetic creatures, we like pretty things. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. The personal attention... you know when you’re up close, getting so close into someone’s personal space like that, even if it is through a screen, you’ve already crossed a boundary there. The limits between bodies are put at stake and that, in a way, is always sexual.
Yes, you can get those tingles and feelings, but when you think beyond that, what happens after? They don't just go away, you have to release them. They do not call ASMR a ‘brain orgasm’ for no reason. You can throw all the science at it you want, but there will always be a sensual and sexual component to it.
Yet, I get that people de-emphasize the sexual aspect, because of society. Let’s be honest, you don't want to go to your parents and be like ‘hey I do sex work!’ or ‘I do ASMR and I’m ear eating!’
Imagine that conversation around the Christmas table
Exactly! I just think people don't want to be judged. Because we do judge, and are afraid to be judged. Still, I don’t get why we would suppress our sexual nature.
On the one hand, you are a brand. On the other, you are helping people who do not have the kind of personal attention in their lives that you simulate in your videos. Do you see yourself as a caregiver or as an entrepreneur in the first place?
You have to have a giving, caretaking personality. I am a natural caretaker, and a nurturing person, and I have so much love to give, and I’m like... Why not do this? Yet, if I want to continue growing my brand I do have to be an entrepreneur as well, I am a business, and I do think these things can coexist and I can balance the two.
Women will rule the world
Would it go too far to say there is a feminist potential there, as women are performing the kind of caring, nurturing tasks that they have been doing since mankind, but they’re also monetizing them, being in control, making it into a business? Would you consider this emancipatory in any way?
I respect feminists, although I wouldn’t necessarily call myself one. I think women now are more empowered than they were before. Women will rule the world one day; we are becoming the dominant sex. And it is perfectly okay to do this while being feminine and doing things more traditionally associated with women. This work can also be considered empowering for young women as it opens them up to new opportunities. If I’d never started this adventure, I’d never have had this interview with you. I just did an interview with another ASMR artist, she’s doing a podcast on sex and diversity. It’s just really incredible, especially for someone like me who wasn’t always ‘online’. It opens up a whole other world.
How do you feel about privacy? For instance, while scheduling this interview I noticed you were being very mysterious about the time zone you’re in.... Do you have any tips for young women thinking of starting this line of work?
I am huge on privacy and security. I take all possible measures to make sure I am safe. And I do feel pretty safe, as long as I enforce my boundaries. Young women starting on OnlyFans and these new platforms, they can be a little naive when it comes to this. To give an example: when using PayPal, you can hide all your information but your zip code will still be visible. This is why I don’t have a PayPal account. Some women have an Amazon Wish List, which I’d also discourage, because that displays their address. Some of the male ASMR performers do not seem to care about any of this, maybe they feel more confident, but I would advise them to take precautions as well.
My family thinks I’m talking to a wall
For the younger generation of women who want to come into this, I’d say really plan it out: what’s the big picture, what are your goals? Are you trying to make this into a business, is it just to make some cash? Regardless: do it the right way. Use an alias, never use your address, and say goodbye to your old Facebook and other social media accounts, anything that can be traced back to your origins. There are also programs you can get for your computer that can route you to different countries and states. Not to say 'always live in fear', but just be smart about it.
Do you have less physical contact with people in real life since you started this; do you live more online, less offline?
There were friends who found out, didn't understand it and just wrote me off, which is totally fine. If they’re not going support me, they will not be good friends to me anyway, so see you later. That's just toxic, I’m not going to always defend myself or back up what I’m doing or why I’m doing it. Some of my friends started to act differently around me, there was always this elephant in the room, so I disassociated myself from certain people. Young women need to seriously consider those implications. You might lose a friend or a family member. It is a lifestyle change.
Ha, so actually you are this self-contained millennial who just needs all of her technology.
I’m someone who is especially socially isolated. I don't really have a lot of outside communications, expect for the online world and my fans, my subscribers and at night I’m on my OnlyFans, responding to messages. I do sometimes get on a friend basis with fans, and speaking to them for a couple of hours does compensate for things I might be missing in the physical realm. My family, they can get concerned, because they are thinking I’m talking to a wall, they have no idea of the contact that is involved in this type of work.
I do think I could be very happy alone, continuing to do this work and having more connections and contacts, and even Zoom calls like these. To me it’s perfectly healthy. My hope is that people who need it can find this genre, and that can help just a little bit to reduce depression and loneliness, stress and anxiety.
 Van de Ven, I. Personal Attentions: Alleviating Loneliness and Isolation through Virtual Girlfriends and Boyfriends. Mediatization of Emotional Life. Eds. Katarzyna Kopecka-Piech & Mateusz Sobiech. Forthcoming.