Friday A/V Club: Donald Duck Explains Birth Control

When Disney met the Population Council


In 1968, the Population Council produced a film on family planning. They had help from a celebrity: Donald Duck.

In a history of sex-ed films written for Collectors Weekly, Lisa Hix explains how this cartoon came to be:

While it was couched as an altruistic attempt to alleviate strain on limited resources and improve life on earth, [the population-control campaign] largely targeted the non-white developing world.

I'm also licensed to perform vasectomies.
Disney/Population Council

That's how beloved children's character Donald Duck ended up shilling contraception on the big screen in 1968. The film "Family Planning"…focuses on a nuclear family of an unspecified non-white ethnic group who faces disaster if too many children are born. The way these babies are made—sex—is not mentioned, and the wife is so demure, she refuses to speak out loud, instead whispering her questions in her husband's ear.

As surprising as it may seem in the era of "anti-contraception conservatives," the financial backers of this pro-birth control film were, in fact, business-minded Republicans—Standard Oil-fortune heir John D. Rockefeller III and his Population Council. Rockefeller's father had also been a big proponent of eugenics in the original American Social Hygiene Association. In the late '60s and '70s, "Family Planning" was translated into 25 languages and distributed throughout Asia and Central and South America to urge population control in developing countries.

The narrator does actually mention sex once, using a euphemism—he calls it "normal relations as man and wife." But yes, this is basically a population-panic picture, not a how-to guide.

Hix's whole history is worth a read, by the way. Here's how her article describes a movie made outside the Disney/Rockefeller orbit:

Even more peculiar is 1976's celebration of male masturbation, "Masturbatory Story." "Some of the '70s films should have never been made," [Brenda] Goodman says. "'Masturbatory Story' shows this 30-year-old guy in a bathtub while a country song about masturbation plays. I was like, 'This could not have been shown anywhere!', but then I looked at the leader on the film, and it said the 'Los Angeles School System.'"

That one does not appear to be on YouTube.

(For past installments of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)