Hearing management

Updated 20 September 2016

WATCH: What is a ‘head orgasm’?

Imagine a sound that can cause a pleasurable tingling sensation in the back of your head and neck . . . This rare phenomenon feels so good experts dubbed it a 'head orgasm'.

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The sounds that we hear can have a range of effects on our body and emotions. A scream might make you alert; you might feel very calm while listening to classical music; and people clapping can make you feel energised.

But what if there’s a sound and sensation that could make you experience an orgasm? Albeit not in the genital region, a so-called “head orgasm” occurs when a sound, or any other sensory stimulus, causes a tingling sensation in the back of the head or neck.

Read: Riding in a convertible can damage hearing

Many people have posted videos on the subject online, trying to elicit this kind of reaction in the viewer. According to The Guardian one video got over 6 million views:

‘Unknown phenomenon’

Scientists from Swansea University in Wales call it "Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response" (ASMR) and say it’s largely an unknown sensory phenomenon. Very little research has been done on the subject and some medical professionals are sceptical about its existence.

In 2012 renowned Yale Professor Steven Novella wrote a blog entry on Neurologica stating that he is inclined to believe it is a real medical phenomenon. Novella is known to be a sceptic and is considered an enemy of pseudo-science.

“There are a number of people who seem to have independently experienced and described it with fairly specific details. In this way it's similar to migraine headaches – we know they exist as a syndrome, primarily because many different people report the same constellation of symptoms and natural history,” he wrote.

Currently there’s no research indicating either benefits or dangers of ASMR.

Read: Spotting hearing problems in infancy may boost reading skills in deaf teens

What causes it?

According to the research from Swansea University, a range of sounds and sensory experiences can trigger a head orgasm. In one study 36 892 participants were asked about their specific triggers, and soft whispering seems to be the most common trigger.

Here’s a table with the percentage of participants that reported a tingling sensation caused by a specific trigger:

head orgasm, hearing

The origin

Very few studies have examined the causes of head orgasm, but one study from the University of Winnipeg in Canada examined the neural underpinnings of the phenomenon.

“The results indicated that the default mode network (DMN) of individuals with ASMR showed significantly less functional connectivity than that of controls,” according to the researchers.  

The DMN is a network of interacting brain regions known to have related activity that is very different from other networks in the brain.

“The DMN of individuals with ASMR also demonstrated increased connectivity between regions in the occipital, frontal, and temporal cortices, suggesting that ASMR was associated with a blending of multiple resting-state networks.”

Read more:

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Noise hurts men's hearing more

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Ask the Expert

Hearing Expert

Francis Slabber is a Speech & Language Therapist and Audiologist who has owned and run The Hearing Clinic in Wynberg, Cape Town for the last 17 years. Francis and her team have extensive experience in fitting and supplying hearing aids as well as assistive living devices. Francis has served as the Western Cape Chairperson for the South African Association of Audiologists for three years and has given many talks on the topic of hearing loss and amplification. The Hearing Clinic has a special interest in adult and geriatric hearing impairment, hearing aid fittings and hearing rehabilitation.

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