Signs of the Flesh

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Signs of the Flesh: An Essay on the Evolution of Hominid Sexuality
Signs of the Flesh.jpg
Cover of the first edition
Author Daniel Rancour-Laferriere
Country United States
Language English
Subject Human sexuality
Publisher Walter de Gruyter
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 473
ISBN 0-253-20673-1

Signs of the Flesh: An Essay on the Evolution of Hominid Sexuality is a 1985 book about human sexuality by Daniel Rancour-Laferriere. The work received positive reviews and has been called a classic.


Rancour-Laferriere provides an interdisciplinary discussion of human sexuality, drawing on psychoanalysis, sociobiology, and semiotics. He aims to make claims that are falsifiable and thus scientific in the sense understood by the philosopher Karl Popper. He provides evaluations of the work of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, and the biologist E. O. Wilson, and considers topics such as the female orgasm and homosexuality. He argues, in opposition to a case made by the anthropologist Donald Symons in The Evolution of Human Sexuality (1979), that evidence suggests that the female orgasm is adaptive, rather than simply being a byproduct of selection for the male orgasm.[1] He attempts to explain the ways the human penis has been personified and used as a sign, arguing that "the entities which humans personify are those which are most likely to be involved in the maximization of inclusive fitness."[2]

Publication history[edit]

Signs of the Flesh was first published by Walter de Gruyter in 1985. It was republished by Indiana University Press in 1992.[3]


Mainstream media[edit]

Signs of the Flesh received a positive review from D. S. Apel in The Times Literary Supplement. Apel described the book as a "captivating study" and compared it to "the window in a well-assorted sex shop, full of interesting and peculiar devices for the advancement of learning".[4]

Scientific and academic journals[edit]

Signs of the Flesh received a positive review from Christopher R. Badcock in Archives of Sexual Behavior in 1993.[5] In The Quarterly Review of Biology, the book received reviews from the psychologist David Buss and Charles Crawford.[6][7] It was also reviewed by the anthropologist J. Patrick Gray in American Anthropologist.[8]

Badcock praised Rancour-Laferriere's broad interests and knowledge of many subjects, and the "wit and humor" of his work. He suggested that the republication of Signs of the Flesh, in unaltered form, seven years after its original publication showed that the book had become a classic, and described Rancour-Laferriere's bibliography as "an immense resource". He believed that the most important part of the work might be to give renewed attention to Freud's work and synthesize it with "recent evolutionary insights". However, he considered Rancour-Laferriere's treatment of semiotics the strongest part of the book. He noted that semiotics was less important to understanding human sexuality than psychoanalysis and evolutionary biology, and that it was difficult to reconcile with them, but believed that Rancour-Laferriere made a well-argued case for its relevance.[5]

Evaluations in books[edit]

The philosopher Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, writing in The Roots of Power (1994), criticized Rancour-Laferriere's arguments about the personification of the penis, arguing that the problem with explanations such as his is that they ignore the way that human males experience the penis as being out of control.[9]



  1. ^ Rancour-Laferriere 1985, pp. iv–v, 1, 9–10, 63–68, 341–354.
  2. ^ Rancour-Laferriere 1985, pp. 301–306.
  3. ^ Rancour-Laferriere 1985, pp. iii–iv.
  4. ^ Apel 1992, p. 12.
  5. ^ a b Badcock 1993, pp. 650–654.
  6. ^ Buss 1987, pp. 351–352.
  7. ^ Crawford 1993, pp. 145–146.
  8. ^ Gray 1987, pp. 234–235.
  9. ^ Sheets-Johnstone 1994, pp. 297–298, 392.