I like to be stroked. And no, that’s not a kinky opener for my Tinder bio or an admission that I believe I’m a cat trapped inside a human body. Since I was a child, if anyone stroked my skin or hair I would feel this rush of tingles. I even felt it watching someone else have their skin stroked or hair played with.
I didn't know this sensation had a name until I stumbled across a video for ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) on Reddit a few years ago. A woman whispered gently to camera as she played with another woman’s hair and stroked her face. It may sound odd to some but I found it so soothing.
I started watching the videos to help me relax before bed. I desperately wanted to find someone who would perform an ASMR-style massage on me. I asked my boyfriend but he soon got bored and started rubbing my arms like he was trying to start a fire. And when I googled ‘stroking skin massage London’, I stumbled across dark corners of the internet to which I’d rather not return...
So when I discovered that there was an actual ASMR massage therapist working in London offering hair play, skin brushing and gentle whispering, I was so curious to try it out. Would it be as relaxing as I hoped? Or would being affectionately stroked by a stranger just feel weirdly pervy?
Some people do question whether ASMR has a sexual undertone. I guess a person whispering in your ear and stroking your skin could feel like a precursor to something more intimate. And I'd be lying if I said I hadn't watched a few of the more sensual videos and thought, ‘There’s definitely a bloke beating the bishop over his laptop to this.’
But when I meet Krisztina at her Hammersmith massage spa – filled with twinkly lights and woodwind music playing gently in the background – she makes me feel instantly at ease. She explains that she only focuses on a person from the shoulders up, not wanting to allow any confusion over what her massage therapy is about.
That’s not to say she hasn't had to field a string of late-night phone calls from men who believe her services include a 'happy ending'. She tells me: "It’s clear what they’re asking for so I tell them they’ve got the wrong idea and hang up."
I ask her why she got into this kind of massage therapy. She said that, like me, she’d always loved skin stroking and hair play and found the ASMR videos soothing. No one offered this service in London so she took courses in Indian head massage and face massage and started her business last year.
I lie down on Krisztina’s massage table and we begin. At first, it feels like a typical massage as she uses oil and works out tight knots on both my shoulders. But soon it focuses purely on tingles. She glides her fingers over my face, strokes my hair and works her nails into my scalp. She gently whispers to me throughout, explaining what she’s doing and assuring I feel relaxed and comfortable.
She does a pitter-patter style tapping with her fingers over my face, shoulders and arms, mirroring raindrops. My whole body feels a rush of tingles and my hairs stand on end. She grabs two soft makeup brushes and glides them slowly up and down my arms and across my face. I feel completely relaxed and it doesn’t seem bizarre for a stranger to be so close or affectionate. It feels like a purely nurturing experience. The massage lasts for an hour but Krisztina warns me the tingling sensation may stay with me for a while after.
She’s right. As I walk back to the train station, my entire body is racing with tingles. I definitely get some strange looks on the tube as I shakily make my way to a seat, buzzing like an old fridge.
But as I get into bed that night, I fall into the most solid sleep. My alarm barely wakes me the following morning and I feel a sense of calm and relaxation throughout the day. And that's something to be said for a day that includes a 40-minute commute, squashed into a man's armpit on the tube.
ASMR massage may not be for everyone but I'm so glad the service now exists. Everyone needs to take time for themselves to relax. And if you find that relaxation through paying a woman to stroke you, then so be it. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.