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The Best Gay Sex I’ve Ever Had Is With People Who Look Like Me

'Doppelbanging’ is a thing, and it’s not that weird

Tom Disalvo

Entering my "ho phase" fresh out of a years-long relationship brought with it a smattering of unexpected results. Granted, seeking out new sexual partners after long-term monogamy was bound to provoke some unease, especially in a gay dating scene where shirtless profiles reign supreme and Grindr small talk is so small it rarely exceeds one word. 

Even after navigating all the monosyllables (“host” and “pics” sit atop the Grindr lexicon), my post-breakup unease only continued once I’d assembled a roster of casual flings. Amidst mid-coital mentions of my ex’s name (yikes) and post-coital tears (double yikes), the most confounding throughline in my string of encounters was the fact that, in retrospect, most of the people I slept with bore some resemblance to me.

It’s worth noting that not every one of my "ho phase" partners was a lookalike. One guy, in a choice that almost had him booted from my roster, confidently sported an eyebrow piercing (pause for collective gay gasp), and another had those Cillian Murphy-esque eyes that said he either wanted to kill me or kiss me. Thankfully it was the latter, but I’ve seen “Red Eye” enough times to know that blue eyes can’t be trusted. 

These, however, proved to be exceptions to an unconscious rule — the other guys on my roster looked remarkably like myself. There was the brown-haired man (we’ll call him Dave) whose curls fell in such a familiar way I wondered if we shared a barber, and another who had the same ankle tattoo as me, and likely regretted it just as much.

Some might gasp at the seeming narcissism that underpins this trend, and indeed these doppelgänger hookups elicited similar thoughts about my own vanity. I’m certainly not the type who jacks off in front of a mirror — the guy whose name is probably Chad or Brad, and who is behind the aforementioned shirtless profiles. So why was I consistently running into arms (and thighs) that looked uncannily like my own?

It’s a question I asked Dr. Beth Ribarsky, a communications professor at the University of Illinois. According to Dr. Ribarsky, who teaches courses in romantic communication, people “seek out [lookalikes] because they are inherently familiar.” The familiarity of brown eyes and curls is likely what initially piqued my interest in Dave, since these similarities were “a starting point of attraction,” Dr. Ribarsky said. 

With the groundwork of attraction expedited, Dave’s familiarity led me to “make assumptions that we might also share characteristics [beyond our appearance]”, she explained. While Dr. Ribarsky said these assumptions might be “wildly inaccurate” — in my case, Dave was a sports fan and the only team I follow is the cast of “The Real Housewives” — they nonetheless propelled me to someone who at least had the semblance of compatibility. 

What Dr. Ribarsky speaks of is known in psychology circles as the "mere-exposure effect," which not only sounds like something I should get tested for but also explains the phenomenon in which people gravitate toward things that feel familiar. It also explains why the lookalikes on my roster were the best in bed. 

It was here that Dave and I shared an unspoken shorthand. And boy, what his (short)hands could do. While experts could debate ad nauseam about the science behind this chemistry, for Dave and I, it’s perhaps as simple as the fact that a familiar face was more approachable than a headless, nameless and hairless six-pack.     

“When we feel comfort in a relationship, we are able to relax and be ourselves,” Dr. Ribarsky explained. “We are apt to spend less time questioning our connection.” It’s why, free from the barrier of unfamiliarity, my lookalike sexcapades felt intrinsically more intimate. Like reacquainting myself with an old friend, Dave spoke in a mutual love language of words (and tongues) that stretched well beyond one syllable.

I’m not the only person who has been one degree away from sleeping with a mirror. While the phenomenon is common among straight people, the so-called "doppelbänger" appeal has its roots in gay communities. The term itself appears in many queer slang glossaries, often cited alongside synonyms like "boyfriend twin" or "dyke-alike." 

So plentiful are gay lookalikes that they’ve inspired countless social media pages, populated by couples who were probably George Lucas’ inspiration for “Attack of the Clones. The prevalence of gay "doppelbanging" is partly due to the similar features that those of the same sex are likely to share. For gay men, especially, the phenomenon is also wrapped up in hardwired beauty standards which, for better or worse, inform our ideas of what is attractive, and therefore who we seek to emulate (and eventually fuck).

For Dr. Joe Kort, a queer relationship therapist based in Royal Oak, doppelbanging is also a means of safety for queer people. “The more familiar a partner appears, the safer you are psychologically,” Dr. Kort explained. 

In this way, the pursuit of a lookalike is one of convenience, offering a “safe bet” that lightens the burden of hyper-scrutiny already placed on queer couples by society. A gay couple who look similar might better conform to heteronormative ideals and invite less external judgement than one marked by notable differences in age, upbringing or appearance. 

Some have taken the popularity of doppelbanging as a reinforcement of the centuries-old stereotype that gay men are vain. “There is a history of pathologizing this in psychotherapy by calling these [queer] couples narcissists," Dr. Kort explained.

While Dr. Kort conceded that some level of vanity — whether subconscious or not — might be at play, the more overwhelming driver of lookalike sex is deeper than face value, regardless of whether that face resembles your own. 

“You feel safe within your own body so you’re going to be drawn to somebody who matches yours,” Dr. Kort said, “I don’t think [that desire] is narcissistic.” Dr. Ribarsky agreed that doppelbanging “isn’t a hallmark of narcissism,” and it’s in unpacking the forces behind my attraction that the clones on my roster seem less a manifestation of vanity as they were of comfort and convenience. 

Indeed, my affinity for someone familiar was entangled not only in my desire for security amid my breakup, but in the broader idea that courting a lookalike was something of a romantic shortcut; accelerating my attraction and appeasing the glare of hetero eyes. 

What all of this amounts to is about as murky as my post-Dave sex haze, but at least a few insights can be gleaned from my doppelbanger sexcapades. Those currently sleeping with lookalikes can rest assured that their roster is not built solely on vanity, but on the comfort of familiarity. Lookalike sex is an expressway to connection, easing our navigation of both the queer dating scene, and the expectations of society writ large.        

In the end, perhaps we needn’t think too deeply about the science of doppelbangers. Maybe, if technology someday allows, we’ll all bang our clones and share identical douching regimes. But in the meantime, I’ll find myself a plethora of Daves. Heck, I’d even settle for a Chad.

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