Remembering Phil Harvey (1938-2021)

The adult industry and beyond grieves a great loss this week with the passing of sexual health and free-speech icon Phil Harvey, the exemplary philanthropist and founder of Adam & Eve.

Adam & Eve logo

In the Beginning

The Illinois native attended Harvard, graduating in 1961 having studied Slavic Languages and Literature. After graduation, he served for a few years in the US Army based out of Fort Meade, before switching focus to a lifelong passion of his: international philanthropy. In 1963, Harvey joined the charity CARE to help feed a surging population of children in India. Working with CARE for a number of years, Harvey began to see the real-world importance of family planning and lack of resources available in the developing world.

Harvey returned to the United States in 1969 to attend the University of North Carolina’s Master’s program in Family Planning Administration. It was in this program that Phil Harvey and Dr. Tim Black met, and the seeds of Adam & Eve were planted. In 1972, Harvey and Black formed a modest mail-order condom-sales business, operating out of the back of a restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This business model became so successful that it quickly became one of the largest mail-order, non-medical channels of purchasing contraceptives in the world. Along with condoms, Adam & Eve’s early catalogs sold items like camping equipment, knives, and Indiana Jones-style hats, among other random goods. The non-sexual items didn’t seem to interest customers the same way condoms and lingerie did, so Harvey and Black decided to focus entirely on sexuality-based product lines.

With their Adam & Eve proceeds and some help from charitable donors, Harvey and Black then founded Population Services International (PSI) to address the developing world’s lack of access to contraception. PSI works in 70+ countries today with a yearly budget of over $650 million.

Legal Challenges

Phil Harvey and Dr. Black’s overnight business success didn’t come without some challenges, however. In the 1970s, selling condoms via mail was still technically illegal due to a Puritanical statute left over from the past century. The Comstock Law (1872) explicitly made interstate sale of contraceptives illegal. Despite the potential legal challenges they could face, Harvey and Black forged ahead with Adam & Eve with the shared goal in mind that their business could fund their overseas charitable efforts.

In the 1980s, Adam & Eve began selling VHS pornography, as was fitting with their other merchandise. Harvey figured this could open them up to some liability, but he did not expect the intense backlash Adam & Eve received from the federal government in response. On May 29th, 1986, Adam & Eve’s headquarters were raided by 37 federal and state agents who came beating down their doors with warrants. After searching the premises and questioning every employee on site, the agents left without making a single arrest.

Unfortunately, a particularly motivated anti-porn crusader was determined to mount an obscenity case against any interstate distributors of pornography. The case against Adam & Eve was built by a named Brent Ward, who hailed from a particularly religious community in Utah. The trial began with a lengthy screening of one of Adam & Eve’s Vanessa del Rio videos, which was intended to scandalize and perhaps disgust the jury.

Vanessa del Rio
The scandalous Vanessa del Rio

Throughout the trial, the prosecution repeatedly assumed the morality of the jury, and this may be what ultimately lost them the case. After a local minister testified that Adam & Eve’s employees were “unfit citizens,” jurors recoiled at the blatant self-righteousness of the prosecution’s argument. After a single hour of deliberation, the jury returned with a resounding verdict of “not guilty.”

Despite their victory in Utah, Adam & Eve’s challenges were far from over—the federal government insisted that their investigation into the company’s practices remained ongoing. This time Harvey wanted to strike first. He sued the federal government for abridging his First Amendment rights, and won that case as well.

Utah’s anti-porn task force couldn’t stand for this, and soon indictments befell adult company after adult company. People began going out of business, and the First Amendment stakes rose yet again. Facing a new slew of obscenity charges and a $750,000 fine, Phil Harvey faced a decision. He could plead guilty, and potentially lose everything, or he could stand up to the feds once again. For a First-Amendment absolutist, the decision was simple; Harvey rejected a plea deal and went ahead to trial. The feds once again harassed the Adam & Eve headquarters, confiscating important customer lists for the company, and Harvey was advised to plead down to a misdemeanor instead: violating postal regulations. Ultimately, he paid the government a $250,000 fine. The government had used up all legal recourse against Adam & Eve, and legal protections for nationwide sexual material trade were fortified by these decisions.

Evaluating Content

In the wake of the lengthy legal battles, Harvey took to heart some of what he’d learned about obscenity law. Harvey insisted Adam & Eve adhere to strict content-review processes moving forward and come up with their own in-house standards for what was deemed acceptable to distribute. Harvey consulted with sex therapists, legal experts, and pornography professionals to determine where the line would be.

Clear consent became the predominant conclusion of Harvey’s research, and just to be safe, the company would also shy away from S&M material. Harvey was so careful in the beginning that performers with tattoos were also banned, but of course certain things relaxed as time went on.

Expanding into Production

After evaluating their content and working alongside production companies like Wicked Pictures and Vivid, Harvey chose to diversify into the production sphere himself. The first titles from their new studio, in keeping with their new content standards and partnerships with sex educators, focused on sexual education. Titles like Nina Hartley’s Guide to Oral Sex and Nina Hartley’s Guide to Anal Sex were ironclad against obscenity prosecution because there are educational benefits to consuming them.

Nina Hartley's Guide to Oral Sex
Nina Hartley's Guide to Anal Sex
Nina Hartley's Guide to Swinging

As Adam & Eve grew, Harvey wanted to retain focus on his initial mission: international family planning access. Ever the confident leader, he delegated different avenues of his business to the right employees so he could focus on PSI. Bob Christian took over the production element of Adam & Eve, and expanded from the Nina Hartley instructional videos to Candida Royalle‘s Femme line.

Brick-and-Mortar Empire

In the late 90s, once Adam & Eve’s mail-order and production legs were successful, the company decided to offer retail locations. At first, they dabbled in owning and operating their own brick-and-mortar locations, but Harvey realized franchising would be much more lucrative. The franchise locations would sell the same namesake products as their catalogs, but the day-to-day business operations could be left to the franchisees.

The retail growth became exponential in this period, and led to the company’s name garnering more mainstream support. Soon, Adam & Eve-branded products could be found at Walgreens and Spencer’s Gifts, and even online on Amazon.

Philanthropic Efforts

After battling the legal system, Harvey set up another charitable leg of his organization with the same mission as PSI. DKT International became an Adam & Eve-funded charity that provided contraception and abortion services worldwide. Harvey’s international family-planning mission was further fueled by the Reagan administration’s assault on government-funded reproductive rights. Harvey maintained an active role as DKT’s President for 24 years before retiring in 2013. Charity Navigator rates DKT International’s operations highly, and even without Harvey, the operation continues. According to XBIZ, DKT International provided over 800 million condoms, 93 million cycles of oral contraceptives, 30 million injectable contraceptives and 3 million IUDs in 2019.

Harvey was known to pursue issues other than just family planning. In 1997, he founded The Liberty Project, which operated as an offshoot of DKT that combatted the fallout from the War on Drugs, mass incarceration, discrimination against immigrants, advocated for the poverty-stricken, and fought predatory civil forfeiture laws.

Phil Harvey cutting the ribbon at Adam & Eve warehouse

Harvey’s Impact

It goes without saying that Phil Harvey was a trailblazer in not only the adult industry, but sexual wellness and awareness on an international scale. He pioneered free speech defense and combatted the notion of church and state separation. He provided contraceptive products and procedures to an untold number of people in need. His impact on the world is undeniable, and the loss of such an admirable figure unspeakably tragic.

We at HotMovies would like to thank Phil Harvey for allowing businesses like ours to exist, and for all of the incredible contributions he made to our industry and beyond.

Enjoy 25% off all Adam & Eve scenes this weekend in memory of Phil Harvey

Adam & Eve 25% Off Sale banner

Follow @explicitbridget and HotMovies on Twitter and Instagram